Sounds dramatic, right? It really isn't.
T.O.’s fanatical approach to physical fitness rubbed off on Ratliff, who marveled at how the headline-grabbing receiver seemed to get faster as he got older. Ratliff worked out with T.O.’s longtime personal trainer Buddy Primm in Atlanta last winter and was so pleased with the results that he was determined to repeat the process this year.
The problem was that Ratliff underwent surgeries on both elbows to remove bone spurs. That meant he wasn’t ready to spend a month sweating in his native Georgia during the winter, as he did last year. He opted to spend the last four weeks in Atlanta despite the conflict with the Cowboys’ voluntary OTA program.
“It’s nothing against the team,” said Ratliff, who discussed his decision with his defensive linemates and coaches. “It’s just something I felt like I needed to do. I felt like I needed to get to Atlanta, hone in on my craft and focus on rehab.
“Whatever I feel like I’ve got to do to get an edge, I’m going to do.”
Ratliff returned to Valley Ranch this week and participated in Wednesday’s practice. He said he felt like his work in Atlanta paid off.
While in Atlanta, Ratliff spent almost every waking moment either eating or working out. He ate every few hours and adhered to a strict diet that cut out sweets, fried foods and pork. His daily schedule included a weightlifting session, two conditioning sessions with Primm and a mixed martial arts training session with former Penn State All-American wrestler John Hanrahan.
While Ratliff’s work with Primm started last year, he’s done MMA training for the last five offseasons. He believes improves his ability to use his hands and leverage. Each session starts with boxing work before going to grappling, with Ratliff working his way up to six rounds with only 60 seconds of rest in between.
“The conditioning part of that is amazing,” said Ratliff, a rare 3-4 nose tackle who stays on the field in passing situations. “Once you get on the field, you never get tired. If you do, you recover extremely fast.”
Ratliff weighed in at 296 pounds, which he said is a pound heavier than the weight he played at last season. He feels quicker and stronger.
The pain in his elbows, which have bothered him the last three years and gradually got worse, is “extremely tolerable.” It was often excruciating last season, when he never asked for a play off but often compensated for the pain by altering his technique.
“I haven’t felt like this in awhile,” Ratliff said. “I’m hoping and praying for big things.”
He put in the work the last month, albeit far away from the Cowboys’ practice facility.