Rob Ryan talking less as defense shows improvement

Posted Friday, Aug. 10, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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galloway OXNARD, Calif. -- Tony Romo can screw it up, big-time or even small-time, and his football sins are never forgiven. Those sins become part of the Romo-hate portfolio. And what a thick hate portfolio it is.

Others, however, are more fortunate when it comes to the ongoing failures of a Cowboys franchise that is deeply submerged in ongoing failures now approaching two decades, and still counting.

It's kind of interesting to watch who escapes the wrath, and who doesn't. Rob Ryan, for instance. Come on down, Rob. Man, you really skated last season, lucky old you.

(Quick disclaimer: no, the above is not a Romo whine-fest. If you are the quarterback, you are automatically the lightning rod. Tony himself seems to understand and accept it without complaint.)

Back to Rob Ryan:

Aside from Romo meltdowns in the Jets game, and certainly the Lions game, last season's debacle for the Cowboys was really not centered on extensive offensive or QB malfunctions.

Ryan's defensive unit had some impressive moments early, faded a bit, then in December had a full crash and burn misadventure.

Rob was in his first season here as defensive coordinator, and in the Ryan family kind of way was a talkative, cocky, brash son of a Buddy.

Yes, his mouth overloaded his defense.

Personally, I had Rob listed as the No. 3 team failure for the 2011 season, second only to Jerry Jones, who when failure happens is always No. 1 on the hit list. And No. 2 was Jason Garrett, who flunked his initial full-time head coach test.

Red J, of course, caught the big heat for 2011. Ryan, I thought, skated.

Moving right along, however, with seven months in the rearview mirror, and another training camp well under way, Ryan is as impressive as anyone out here, player or coach.

He's toned down the bluster, admitted mistakes from last season, has new defensive coaches to rely on, and a new Xs and Os commitment.

Ryan: "It comes down to one thing. We, as coaches, have to be more creative in finding ways to pressure the quarterback, be creative in how we are going to get there, and, frankly, we can learn from getting our ass kicked last season."

All of that is the Rob gospel.

While Ryan escaped the heavy media criticism a year ago, and I didn't agree he should have escaped, there was a valid excuse in the double form of veteran, marginal players going south on him, and injuries that piled up, particularly at cornerback.

On paper in Oxnard, the Cowboys will be better because of a heavy investment in two new cornerbacks, veteran free agent Brandon Carr and No. 1 draft pick Mo Claiborne.

On paper, the Cowboys have better talent and good depth at cornerback. On paper, the No. 1 defensive weakness has been solved.

And then there's linebacker Sean Lee, who appears to be headed for NFL stardom, and the combo of Bruce Carter and/or free agent Dan Connor giving the other inside LB spot a strong partner for Lee.

And while not yet sure how far to go with this, Barry Church, at least at the moment, has emerged in camp as a candidate to close a gaping door at safety, meaning more needed improvement for the secondary.

"We have gone back to our fundamentals, and I think you will see a different style of play," said Ryan, which by my translation was Rob saying, "Hey, I've got some real players this time, as opposed to last time."

Maybe so, but even so, all is not well at the moment.

Carr has been sensational in camp, but Claiborne has barely been in football pads since his last college game at the Superdome. And that was January. First, came the wrist surgery after the draft, and out here he sprained a knee.

Rookie corners rarely start strong in their initial season, but when will Mo even get to chance to show he's ready to start? "Dang shame," said Ryan on Thursday, "but the kid has all the want-to and all the talent in the world. Got to have patience with him, and got to get him healthy, but he's working hard at his mental reps every day.

"Still, a football player needs football plays in pads. When this kid gets in pads and gets going, you will see a player."

And no matter how much Mike Jenkins has been dog-cussed for previous stuff, he is valuable this season as part of the depth chart at cornerback. Except Jenkins' ongoing struggles with a surgically repaired shoulder make him mostly a camp spectator.

The position the Cowboys most wanted to improve -- cornerback -- is the position most on hold out here.

A year ago in camp, we were asking, "DeMarcus Ware and then who?" on the Cowboys defense. Jay Ratliff was the second name, but that was about it. But now throw in Sean Lee and Brandon Carr.

Plus, Ryan is keeping the faith on Carter, Connor, and Sean Lissemore at end. Also up front, there's veteran Jason Hatcher (an OK player) and the possibility of a rookie stud emerging in third-round pick Tyrone Crawford.

Claiborne, at his rookie price tag, absolutely has to be a stud, at least at some point.

"I think we can be good," Ryan said, and not with bluster, just with confident tones.

After last season's debacle, being better is a full-blown given.

Except it's a defense that also needs to be a much, much better.

Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on Galloway & Co. on ESPN/103.3 FM.

Randy Galloway, 817-390-7697

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