There are two reasons to believe that Jay Ratliff will play with better technique this season than he did during his All-Pro campaign a year ago.
Ratliff has no interest in discussing the first reason. He can’t say enough about the second.
Ratliff wreaked havoc last season despite playing with a pair of elbows that required offseason surgery. He compensated for the pain by often playing higher than he wanted. That won’t happen this season.
“My elbows are fine. It’s not an issue,” Ratliff said, making it clear it’s not a subject he wants to talk about.
Ratliff would much rather discuss new defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni, who returns to the Cowboys after spending the last two seasons as the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator. Coach P, as the players call him, previously coached tight end and linebackers for the Cowboys.
The position he coaches has changed, but Pasqualoni has not. He stresses details in a no-nonsense fashion.
“Technique, pad level and hands,” Ratliff said. “I want more accurate hands and a more physical punch. That’s something Coach Pasqualoni has us work on every single day, and it’s paying off.”
Ratliff winces when Pasqualoni’s name is first mentioned. He lets out a loud “Woooo!” when asked what it’s like being coached by Pasqualoni, then calls defensive end Jason Hatcher over to help him explain Hatcher closes his eyes, cracks a wicked grin and shakes his head.
Consider the reactions signs of respect.
“He’s intense, man. He’s intense. He’s really intense,” Ratliff said. “The good thing is, we know him. We know Coach P. We know what to expect.
“Don’t get it wrong. No one is complaining about Coach P at all. At all. But you know, in that meeting room, we just make fun of him. He’s so intense. And one of the things that makes him a great coach is it’s almost like he’s not a coach just here. He lives it. He’s almost legendary.”
The defensive linemen used to laugh at DeMarcus Ware and the other linebackers when they had Pasqualoni in their ear every day. But the defensive line, led by Ratliff, is fine with getting the same treatment these days.
“Everybody he coached, he made them all better,” Ratliff said. “We’re trying to take in everything he says, cling on every single word, ask a lot of questions. I know I’ve probably been asking more questions than I’ve probably ever have in my whole career, because I just know what kind of coach I have.”
Ratliff is healthy with a coach who pushes him every day. How much better can an All-Pro nose tackle get the next year? We’re about to find out.