IRVING — Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said his relationship with Rob Ryan did not end when he fired his former defensive coordinator.“Oh, it’s ongoing,” Garrett said. “It’s an ongoing relationship. I have a great deal of respect for Rob as a coach and as a person. I have a great deal of affection for him, and for everything he did when he was here for the couple of years as our defensive coordinator. He and I have spoken and stayed in touch. He’s a great guy, and I just can’t thank him enough.”The Cowboys fired Ryan on Jan. 8 after two seasons. The New Orleans Saints hired Ryan a month later.At the Senior Bowl in January, Garrett said the main reason Ryan was dismissed was because his defense didn’t force enough turnovers. The Cowboys exceeded their takeaway total from last year in Game 8 this year.Garrett didn’t discuss reasons for Ryan’s dismissal Wednesday, but he said he learned a lot from Ryan.“He’s a heck of a competitor, too,” Garrett said. “That’s one of the things we certainly liked about him, and we’ll be challenged by what he’s doing on defense, certainly, on Sunday night.”The Saints, who allowed the most yards (7,042) in NFL history last season, are ranked ninth in total defense and have allowed the fifth fewest points. The Cowboys rank 31st in total defense and have allowed the 15th fewest points. The Cowboys allowed the most yards in team history last season at 5,687. They are on pace to allow 6,708 this season, which would rank third-worst in NFL history. Carter, Sims competeErnie Sims started and played 39 snaps at weakside linebacker Sunday, with Bruce Carter alternating series for 31 snaps. Carter practiced with the first team Wednesday during the portion of practice open to the media.Garrett said Wednesday the competition for the job continues as the Cowboys seek some consistency from the position.“They both played really well at times, and at times they haven’t,” defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. “Bruce came back and played really well last week. Ernie played well before that. He didn’t play well last week. They need to be more consistent. But Bruce came back and really had a nice game, no doubt about it.”Carter said earlier this week that he is confused about why he didn’t start against the Minnesota Vikings, the second time this season Sims has replaced him in the starting lineup. Carter was benched against Denver after allowing two touchdowns against the San Diego Chargers the previous week.Ware returnsDefensive end DeMarcus Ware returned to practice for the first time since injuring his thigh against the Washington Redskins. Ware, who missed the past three games after playing in 134 consecutive games to start his career, was limited.The Cowboys were without five starters Wednesday as receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), receiver Dez Bryant (back), cornerback Morris Claiborne (hamstring), defensive tackle Jason Hatcher (neck), and safety J.J. Wilcox (knee) sat out practice.Hatcher’s injury is a concern, because he’s lost the strength in his left arm from a stinger suffered in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game. He admits he doesn’t know whether he’ll be able to play against the Saints.“It’s an odd situation, and it’s frustrating,” Hatcher said. “… It’s a nerve condition I think, so you’ve just got to wait until the nerve gets [calmed down], and they give me my arm back. Hopefully, it will be before Sunday, so I can go out there and help my team win.”Briefly• The Cowboys signed defensive tackle Everett Dawkins on Wednesday. Dawkins, a seventh-round pick of the Vikings in April from Florida State, was signed off Minnesota’s practice squad.• The Cowboys added guard Phillipkeith Manley and defensive end Hall Davis to their practice squad.• The Cowboys practiced at AT&T Stadium for the third time this season.
Charean Williams, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @NFLCharean