Sean Lissemore: Jay Ratliff's backups are ready

IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys hope that Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff will make a remarkable recovery from a high ankle sprain and play in the season opener.

They’ll prepare as if Ratliff won’t be available Sept. 5 against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

That leaves Sean Lissemore and Josh Brent, a couple of reserves trying to earn larger roles in their third NFL seasons, splitting the nose tackle duties.

“That’s our job,” Lissemore said. “We’ve prepared for it, we’re paid for it, so we’re ready for it.”

Ratliff missed much of training camp and the first two preseason games due to plantar fasciitis. As a result, Brent and Lissemore split the reps with the starting defense.

The 6-foot-3, 303-pound Lissemore was the Cowboys’ most productive defensive linemen on a per-snap basis last season, recording 39 tackles (two for losses), five quarterback pressures and two sacks in a limited role. The Cowboys planned to increase his playing time this season, using him as the defensive line version of a baseball utility man.

“I’ve prepared myself at nose tackle, left end, right end, dime, nickel, everything,” Lissemore said. “Depending on the situation in the game, that’s where I’m going to be playing. That’s a role that I embraced. It’s necessary and I’m ready to step up in that role.”

The 6-foot-2, 320-pound Brent is more of the traditional two-down nose tackle. His only stats in two seasons: 30 tackles, with none in the backfield. Brent understands that more is expected from Ratliff’s replacements.

“Jay sets the standard very high,” Brent said. “The days of space eaters I think are over. Jay is that new trend. You’ve got to have big guys, but guys who are athletic and guys who can move and make plays. Yeah, you’ve got to take two gaps, but you’ve got to be able to get off that block and make a tackle.”

It’s likely that Brent would get the majority of the work in the base defense in Ratliff’s absence, while Lissemore would get most if not all of the playing time in the nickel and dime packages. That’s what Lissemore anticipates, but the coaches haven’t communicated anything about their roles for the opener.

“I can’t really speculate exactly how it’s going to be set up,” Lissemore said. “All I know is I’m going to be ready to play.”