Commentary

Cowboys' D-line united -- and hungry

Updated: November 12, 2009, 1:54 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys defensive line started coming together years ago, even before some of the current players had arrived.

La'Roi Glover, Leo Carson and Jason Ferguson -- no longer with the team -- started something special away from the field that's continuing now.

[+] EnlargeJay Ratliff
James D. Smith/Icon SMIJay Ratliff has helped carry on a Cowboys defensive line tradition by looking out for each other. "We're going to be a unit ... and that's the way it's always been," Ratliff said. "No one man is bigger than the group."

"We're going to be a team," current nose tackle Jay Ratliff said of what those previous linemen told younger players. "We're going to be a unit and you're going to get in line, and that's the way it's always been. We discipline each other and we have this saying: 'No one man is bigger than the group.' And that's how we go about our business."

This season, the deep defensive line has eight of the Cowboys' 21 sacks and 56 of the team's 156 quarterback pressures.

The heart and soul of the unit starts in the middle with Ratliff, a first-time Pro Bowl selection last season who receives praise from coach Wade Phillips on a daily basis.

Ratliff, who is double-teamed on a weekly basis because of his quickness and strength, is second on the team with four sacks and his 14 quarterback pressures is fourth.

At left end is Marcus Spears, a 2005 first-round pick who is strong against the run, plays with good leverage and has contributed two sacks and eight quarterback pressures this season.

Newcomer Igor Olshansky is at right end. He's also good versus the run and is able to push the pocket very well. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Olshansky, who came here via free agency after spending five years in San Diego, is one of the biggest players in the league. He has just one sack, but he has four quarterback pressures and has knocked down three passes.

"They have some talent, but they maximize their assets," line coach Todd Grantham said. "The big thing with those guys is they have a lot of pride in their work and they all play with very good effort. They play very physical and they're mentally tough in doing their jobs and accountable."

That accountability extends to backup linemen such as Jason Hatcher, Stephen Bowen and Junior Siavii. They all get extensive playing time on the nickel and dime packages.

Dobbs The best thing is we all get along. Away from the game and in the locker room, there's a bond there. ... We're a pretty loose group.

-- Cowboys lineman Stephen Bowen

Every Saturday on the road, the defensive linemen go to dinner: Del Friscos in Philadelphia, Fogo de Chao in Kansas City ... they even took over a steakhouse in Denver.

Green Bay better get ready for some big guys coming to a restaurant near you.

"The best thing is we all get along," Bowen said. "Away from the game and in the locker room, there's a bond there. When we go to those places, it's a time to not worry about football until the next day. We're a pretty loose group."

But the players put high expectations on each other.

At the start of the 2007 season, Ferguson suffered a biceps injury, forcing Ratliff to take over the starting role. Before every game, Ferguson, who was traded to the Dolphins after that season, talked to Ratliff about the tendencies of the opposing offensive linemen.

Ratliff and Spears have expanded on those discussions with Siavii, who gets limited snaps as Ratliff's backup, but puts pressure on himself.

[+] EnlargeIgor Olshansky
Kim Klement/US PresswireIgor Olshansky, new to the Cowboys this season, has used his size and brute force to pressure QBs. "The big thing with those guys is they have a lot of pride in their work," line coach Todd Grantham said.

"I wanted to follow their lead," Siavii said. "When we're in the game, we try to help each other out. The group helps me a lot just because of the friendship we have as a group. During the game, Jay will be there and tell me tips, look out for splits and that kind of stuff. So when I go out there, I've already picked up what's about to happen, same with Spears and Igor."

The Packers, the Cowboys' opponent Sunday, have allowed a league-high 37 sacks. Their offensive line has been juggled around due to injuries: The Packers have started three different left tackles, two left guards, two centers and two right tackles.

Ratliff doesn't expect things to be easy. But he does know the line will prepare well and expects to make an impact.

"That's why I love our group," Ratliff said. "We all contribute. We all have our little personalities and we're all together and either one of us can play any position on the defensive line. You can have Igor at nose or end; same thing with Hatcher, Spears and Bowen. All those guys can play the same position.

"[The Packers] are more physical, and we have to be prepared for that. It will be a good challenge for us in the run game."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail calvin.watkins@espn3.com.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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