Jason Hatcher wants one thing clear.

There is no way he would have asked for a trade if defensive tackle Jay Ratliff was still with the Dallas Cowboys and he would have been forced to line up at nose tackle in the 4-3 defense.

No matter what he was quoted as saying: “Horrible. Horrible. Horrible. I’m not a nose tackle. I probably would’ve been asking to be traded or something because I don’t like to play the nose.”

Hatcher contends now he was kidding and the comments were made partly tongue in cheek.

Fair enough.

Considering his team-first attitude and the fact that he never asked for a trade or complained about his role throughout the off-season or the early part of training camp when the Cowboys put the original plan in place, Hatcher should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Ratliff’s controversial departure has paved the way for what has been a career-best season for the eight-year veteran Hatcher.

“I’m not going to say I’m glad Rat is gone because I wish we had him because he’s a helluva football player, but God works in mysterious ways and I’m at the position,” Hatcher said. “I’m making plays and having a helluva year, so I’ve got to keep it up.”

With a career-high and team-leading nine sacks in 11 games, as well as a career-high tying five tackles for loss (tied for first on the team), Hatcher has been one of the Cowboys’ best defenders while emerging as an unchallenged team leader.

There is no way this would have occurred if Ratliff wouldn’t have forced his way off the team. Hatcher would have been forced to play the nose tackle position and do the grunt work while Ratliff would have played the more glamorous 3-technique position in defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s scheme.

Kiffin acknowledges the Cowboys initially thought the 6-foot-6 Hatcher was too tall to play the 3-technique position but were forced to try him there because of the uncertainty with Ratliff.

“I don’t know if I knew that for sure,” said Kiffin, when asked if he thought Hatcher would flourish at the 3-technique. “If you’re too tall, you don’t fit as a 3-technique. You’re more of a defensive end-type of player. They’re special guys who can do that. He’s one of those guys — and we talked about it. When he first got here, I said, ‘You might want to take a look at him depending upon Ratliff and this and that.’ And it worked out.”

Ratliff never got on the field. He was placed on the physically unable to perform list before the season and then was cut on Oct. 16 because the Cowboys thought he would not play at all this season.

That Ratliff eventually signed with the Chicago Bears and will line up against the Cowboys still chafes owner Jerry Jones.