clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Cowboys roster evaluation: NT

New, comments

Dallas Cowboys nose tackle roster evaluation.


Starter: Jay Ratliff – I list Ratliff as the starter because he was through much of the 2007 season, but as everyone knows there is a possibility the Cowboys could move Ratliff back to his more natural position of defensive end. Nose tackle is a position in flux, at least that’s the consensus outside the organization, what the coaching staff is thinking internally is still anyone’s guess. In addition to analyzing the players involved I will try to best-guess what may happen.

Back to Ratliff. He did an excellent job over taking over the starter’s role once Jason Ferguson went down in the opening game of the season. Despite being under-sized for the position, the Cowboys did not lose any toughness in the middle and actually benefited some from Ratliff’s quickness and ability to shoot gaps, making him a force against the run and the pass. If nothing else, we learned that Ratliff is a player and the Cowboys absolutely have to get the guy on the field. I’m still of the opinion that Ratliff would be better suited to play defensive end in the 3-4 scheme and hope that he will be moved to a starter’s role there in 2008. Ratliff has gone from 7th-round afterthought to disruptive force. He shows amazing quickness for his size and a relentless motor. He also demonstrated the strength to take on double-teams and hold the point of attack. He’s a complete player for a defensive lineman and has proved to be one of the steals of the Cowboys’ drafts over the last few years. Whatever decision is made in the offseason about where he will play, the simple fact is the Cowboys need to get the guy in the game as often as possible.

Jason Ferguson – Ferguson began the 2007 season as the starter but his season was quickly cut short by a season-ending injury. Fergy is a natural run-stopping nose tackle for the 3-4 scheme and has proved to be a reliable veteran in his time. The Cowboys face somewhat of a dilemma with Fergy, they’ve now got other players who could play the position and Fergy is reaching an advanced age and his salary cap number ($4 million, I believe) might be an attractive number to reclaim by releasing the vet. While tempting, I don’t think the Cowboys should do that. A better plan would be to move Ratliff back to defensive end and allow Fergy and Tank Johnson to assume the nose tackle duties. Fergy won’t give you the natural pass rush that Ratliff supplied but he does excel at holding the point of attack and disrupting the opponents running game in the middle. A combination of his "immovable object" style with Tank’s more natural quickness and ability to get in the backfield could prove to be a dominant duo. This would allow the Cowboys to get its best players on the field on the defensive line while solving the deficit at defensive end that is Marcus Spears.

Tank Johnson – Coming from a 4-3 system, Tank had to make the adjustment to playing as a 3-4 nose tackle. I saw marked improvement in his play as his playing time increased towards the end of the year and saw displays of his strength and quickness. After sitting out his suspension, he proved that he can play the position and because the Cowboys got him so cheaply he’s provides great value in terms of potential production vs. contract. Spending an offseason further refining his knowledge of the 3-4 scheme should only make him a better player for the Cowboys and he has the skills to be a breakout star in 2008. At worst, he’s a very cheap but solid backup; at best, he could prove to be a very disruptive force that will force the Cowboys to sign him to a long-term contract.

In summary, I would move Jay Ratliff back to defensive end, retain Jason Ferguson and allow him and Tank Johnson to alternate duties at nose tackle, one specializing in run defense with the other being the pass-rush, disruptive force in the backfield.