Ryan: Defense will 'get after people'
Defensive coordinator brings swagger to a defense that is sure to be more aggressive
IRVING -- The Dallas Cowboys' new defensive coordinator strolled into the locker room midday Thursday to tell the media what his plans are for his defense.
"We're gonna sic 'em from the word go," said Rob Ryan, sporting a white Cowboys T-shirt and ripped blue jeans. "We're going to be multiple, we're going to move our 3-4 defense around and get after people."
Ryan, with his long gray hair and beard, was just getting started. He made no apologies for what he believes this Cowboys defense can be.
"They look excellent," Ryan said. "The problems and all that? Hey, I'm not here to farm anybody else's land. I'm going to do a great [expletive] job, and you're going to see that."
This is a unit that allowed a franchise-worst 436 points last season -- including 126 in the fourth quarter, the third-most in the league -- and ranked 23rd in total defense. And after allowing 43 plays of 20 yards or more in 2009, the Cowboys saw that number skyrocket to 69 in 2010, the sixth-worst mark in the NFL.
Despite those failures, people around the league will tell you the Cowboys have some of the most talented defensive players in the NFL.
The first name that comes to mind is ever-improving outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, whom Ryan plans to move all over the field to disrupt the quarterback.
Then there is underachieving outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. Ryan seemed to take offense when the word "regressed" was used to describe his game last year.
"Damn, that Spencer regressed, huh?" Ryan said. "I think he's going to be outstanding, I really do. If he got worse, I can't wait to see him better, because I really like the way this guy works."
The two starting inside linebackers, Bradie James and Keith Brooking, will be in their 30s when -- and if -- the 2011 season starts. Both are coming off nagging injuries that curtailed their practice time and perhaps affected their level of play. Ryan said he's spoken to both and feels they can still perform at an elite level, and he believes linebackers coach Matt Eberflus, his right-hand man for the defense, will elevate their games as well.
We can also talk about the defensive line and whether it needs fixing. Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff struggled at times when faced with double-teams, but Ryan and new defensive line coach Brian Baker have no plans to move him to an end position. Ratliff, considered by some to be undersized for his position, has already spoken to both men and is excited about making strides to improve his game.
The secondary was one of last season's biggest disappointments. Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins were both honored as Pro Bowlers in 2009, but they struggled mightily in 2010. Owner/GM Jerry Jones, the man who signs the checks around here, said he expects Newman and Jenkins to return to a Pro Bowl level in 2011.
Ryan expects the same and believes that using multiple coverages along with a dangerous pass rush should take pressure off the two starting cornerbacks.
"We want them to be great," said Ryan, who added that he thinks secondary coaches Dave Campo and Brett Maxie will fix the safeties and corners once they learn Ryan's system. "They have to be cover guys first in our system and they have to be accurate tacklers, so anything other than that is not us. We have to get tremendous players out there on the corner and be able to shut down wide receivers and again be accurate tacklers. There's no place in football for a coward, and it's definitely not going to be for a corner for us. It's a marquee position and that's what it is here in the NFL."
It seemed Thursday afternoon that the new defensive coordinator is pretty happy with his unit's outlook for 2011. He isn't here to just sit back and relax. He wants his defense to take on an aggressive personality, a personality that creates turnovers -- something coach Jason Garrett wants -- and gets opposing offenses off the field and wins games.
It's the type of swagger this defense needs.
It's the swagger that Buddy's kid has brought to Dallas after 14 years of NFL experience in other places.
"Well, I've had success, even though it's been documented that I haven't," Ryan said. "I know I'm great, but I know my assistant coaches and the guys that I'm with are better than me. That's why I have a lot of faith in them and a lot of faith in this talent here."
Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.