ARLINGTON — Defensive tackle Jay Ratliff broke his silence Wednesday, and though he is a man of few words, he alluded to friction with the Dallas Cowboys’ athletic training staff.Ratliff didn’t use team doctors for sports hernia surgery, which he had Dec. 12 in Philadelphia, and he rehabbed away from Valley Ranch.“I’d rather not say [why],” Ratliff said after the team’s annual Kickoff Luncheon. “Let’s just keep the focus on these guys going out there and playing and winning games. I’m not going to be here and be a distraction to anybody. Just stay as professional as possible about the whole situation. But everyone that is involved knows what is going on.”The Cowboys placed Ratliff on the physically-unable-to-perform list Wednesday. He will miss at least the first six games, but he and the Cowboys remain confident he can return, not just to the field but to a Pro Bowl level. Ratliff is a four-time Pro Bowler.“I hope he’s an All-Pro player,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “I hope he can be. He could have certainly 13, 14 [games] to go if it went like you’d like for it to be [with a playoff run]. [Losing] a player like this, we’re getting tested on our depth right off the bat, but hopefully we’ve got the depth to hold it until we can get him out there.”Ratliff, 32, injured his hamstring during a conditioning test July 20 in Oxnard, Calif.Ratliff has yet to return to practice, but it is the groin injury, not the hamstring, that continues to keep him off the field.“Absolutely, I’m disappointed,” Ratliff said. “But everyone knew what the issue was way beforehand. Everyone knew what it was since last year. I’m not going into much more detail other than that. … It’s for sure not a hamstring tweak.”Free, Leary may startThe Cowboys have started four offensive line combinations in their four preseason games. But their starting five for opening day might not have played together yet.Jerry Jones said Wednesday that Doug Free and Ron Leary could be the team’s starting guards against the New York Giants. “Don’t rule that out,” Jones said.Leary has been on the 53-player roster for only one game in his brief career, and he was inactive in the season finale against the Washington Redskins last year. Free’s only experience at guard came last week when he was switched from tackle and started against the Cincinnati Bengals. He has made 55 career starts at tackle.Yet, despite Free’s inexperience at guard and Leary’s overall inexperience, the Cowboys appear to like their chances with Leary and Free better than with Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings. Bernadeau and Livings were signed as free agents last season and given a combined $6.2 million in guaranteed money. Livings had knee surgery four weeks ago.The Cowboys had penciled Leary into the starting lineup after he started the first two preseason games in place of Livings at left guard. Leary had right knee surgery Aug. 16, and the Cowboys have said all along he will return as a starter. Jones said he remains confidence Leary can be ready for the season opener against the Giants.The Cowboys liked what they saw from Free against the Bengals, enough that Jones intimated the team is out of the market for a starting-caliber guard. Dallas had gone after Brandon Moore and Brian Waters, but it could get neither signed.“Free was nothing short of amazing to come in and play at the level that he played,” Jones said. “You’d have to be real careful making a pretty significant commitment relative to just the cap standpoint at this juncture, relative to looking to the future.”Team awardsThe Cowboys announced their offensive, defensive and special teams players from last season.Anthony Spencer was named the team’s defensive player of the year after making 11 sacks. He thanked the Jones family “for having me back every year.” Spencer is playing under the franchise tag for a second consecutive year.Spencer will make $10.6 million this season after making $8.8 million in 2012, though the sides have not been able to negotiate a long-term deal.Jason Witten and Dez Bryant were co-winners of the offensive award.“Honestly, I think whoever decides on these awards, they probably felt sorry for me,” said Witten, who also won the team’s Ed Block Courage Award. “I think we all know there’s really only one MVP, and he’s [Bryant] standing right by me. He’s an amazing player.”Dan Bailey was the special teams winner after making 29 of 31 field goals last season.Gameday scheduleParking lots at AT&T Stadium open at 2 p.m. today. The plazas open at 4 p.m. and the stadium gates at 5 p.m. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
Charean Williams 817-390-7760 Twitter: @NFLCharean