I recently had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite Dallas Cowboys, Jay Ratliff. The affectionately-monikered Rat is a feel good story, a guy who was drafted in the late-rounds, fought his way onto the roster, and as he reminds us below, got an opportunity because of injury and seized it. Now he's an All-Pro nose tackle, and a disruptive force on game day.
Jay was participating in the "The Monday Night Football Tour Driven by GMC". As I mentioned in my previous post about the interview, the Cowboys did their part in the promotion this weekend. But, the tour moves on with every Monday Night game, so if you're in another city and MNF is coming to your town, check out the schedule and see which players will be appearing courtesy of GMC.
On to the interview:
Blogging The Boys: How comfortable have you guys gotten with Rob Ryan's scheme? The lockout robbed you of some time to learn it, so are you guys comfortable or is it a learning process?
Jay Ratliff: We feel really comfortable with it, at the same time we're still learning a lot. Learning about what he expects and the defensive scheme. For the most part it's fun, and what we do know has allowed us to play fast, it's very player-friendly, we know that Rob is going to put guys in position to make plays. If you can play, you're going to play, that's his motto so we're just doing that.
BTB: Has your personal role changed? Are you getting moved around more and are you seeing more single-blocking?
JR: We move around a lot, but I still get a lot of double-teams. But I'm a nose, so that's expected and I don't mind that at all. If anyone on defense is getting doubled then someone else is getting a one-on-one matchup and we feel confident in our ability to win one-on-ones and that's what's been happening. We're just looking at trying to continue that.
BTB: So even with the movement, you still find yourself in the mix with a couple of linemen most of the time?
JR: Right now, yes. For the most part it really doesn't matter, the only thing that matters to me is the win and me doing my job, contributing to the best of my abilities, and that's it.
BTB: 3-4 nose tackles have been thought of as huge, 330-pound anchors in the line. Lately guys like yourself have brought more athleticism to the position. Do you think that's a trend around the league, more attacking nose tackles?
JR: It could be, but that's not my focus. I'm not worried about the rest of the league, I just worry about what is going on with the Cowboys, and us winning every game. That's all I'm going to focus on, maybe when I'm done I will look at that. (Laughs) But the main thing is just to win.
BTB: Stats aren't always a good measure of defensive lineman's performance in a 3-4 defense. How do you measure if you had a good game after it's over?
JR: Number one is the win. I won't speak for any other nose, but personally I like to disrupt the game. Try to be as disruptive as possible and get lots of production. Only then will I say I had a good day's work, if I'm not doing that then I'm not satisfied. That's kind of how you measure it.
BTB: Has the way you attacked the run changed under Rob Ryan, or is the good run defense more about the players just making plays this year?
JR: I think a lot of it has to do with Rob Ryan, he's put us in the right positions to make plays. Everything about his defense is player-friendly, he's straight-forward but really encouraging, because of his personality guys are eager to play for him and want to get the job done right. Anytime you have a coach leading the defense with that mentality it's going to be successful. Wherever he coaches he's going to be successful and fortunately it's here.
BTB: What does it do for a defense when you see Tony Romo gutting it out, does that resonate on the sidelines and fire guys up?
JR: Absolutely, Romo's the leader of the Dallas Cowboys, the face of the franchise, when you got a guy with an injury like that and how serious it was, to go out and lead a comeback for his team, it's definitely motivating. It makes everybody look at their own injuries and kind of check their own egos and just empty the bucket. Just come out and play hard. I think what he did was really encouraging, that's the sign of a true leader.
BTB: Most of the fanbase has taken to Jason Garrett's approach so far, what's he like when we don't see him, in the halls of Valley Ranch. We only see him at press conferences and things like that. What's he like behind the scenes?
JR: He's very active, very encouraging, but more than anything he has his business approach about football. Everything is the Cowboy Way, it's done the right way, everything is done at full-speed with passion, we're enthusiastic about everything, and the game is played with a lot of emotion. Those are things he preaches and harps on everyday, and what we see from him, that's the way he feels about coaching. He gets into the game and when you see a coach fired up like that every Sunday it definitely rubs off on the players.
BTB: With all the injuries, we hear about Jason Garrett saying the next starter has to step up, not the backup. Behind the scenes he really demands accountability.
JR: That's one thing he's always been big on is accountability and I like the way he puts that, it's the next starter. To be honest that's how I got my role, when the starter went down I was ready when the opportunity presented itself. And that's what he expects from anybody on the team, when your number is called be ready to go. Everyone on the team is important and everyone on this team can play the game, and at some point will play. It's encouraging that whoever comes in the game has your back and is going to play the game the way it's supposed to be played.
BTB: Tell us about your position coach, Brian Baker, what's he brought to the team?
JR: He's a great coach, he's big on technique and making plays. As a player that's all you want to hear, be technically sound and go out and have fun and make some plays. That's what Bake brings to the table, allow us to not think as much, to go out and have fun and make plays, and that's what we're doing.
BTB: Next up is the Redskins, a big rivalry team. Do players feel any of that, or is it just another game, or just another division game? Does playing the Redskins make it anymore special?
JR: We're looking at it as just the next game. We're not going to blow any game out of proportion, we're taking the Jason Garrett approach, it's a business-like approach. Just the next game, every game is important, and we need to win it, that's going to be the approach to the game.
BTB: Is there any talk in the locker room about the comments made by a Redskin about going after Romo's ribs?
JR: We're not even paying attention to all of that, like I said, it's all business. We're going to play the game the way it's supposed to be played. Period. I mean there's no rah-rah speeches and we're not listening to bulletin-board material, we're just focusing in on what it is we do.
BTB: So the Jason Garrett approach goes through all aspects of the organization?