OXNARD, Calif. -- It's Year 2 for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and he has already declared it's put up-or-shut up time for him and the Dallas Cowboys defense.
The Cowboys gave up the third-most yards in team history and second-most passing yards ever while playing a huge role in the team losing five games in 2011 after taking the lead into the fourth quarter, including three they led by double digits.
That the Cowboys finished 8-8 and one game out of the playoffs was blamed partly on the play of the defense.
"We realize what happened last year," Ryan said. "It has been well-documented. You guys did a good job documenting it. We were the reason we didn't get to the playoffs. That is fine. We are looking forward to changing that."
Ryan said he learned a lesson last year when he oversold the defense.
He didn't know how big of an impact the lockout would have on his players learning his scheme.
The depth of the poor performance didn't dawn on him until he was booed at a Dallas Stars hockey game.
So while he is confident his defense will be much improved because of a number of additions via free agency and the draft, as well as time in the off-season to learn his scheme, he plans on letting the team's play do his talking.
"Yes, we did. I know we did," said Ryan, when asked if the defense improved.
"Well, I guess we have to wait and see," Ryan said. "Day 1, I'm not calling anybody out. I learned this is a bigger media [market] than some of the other spots I've been, so I'm going to keep my mouth shut and work."
A silent Ryan, considering the boastful bloodlines start with his father Buddy Ryan, is about as out of character as a slimmer Ryan. After having lap-band surgery to lose weight -- he is down 60 pounds from last year -- Ryan is taking a different approach for the betterment of the team.
"I'm not running scared," Ryan said. "That's why I came to Dallas. I may not have known there was going to be this much scrutiny in the media, but believe me, I want to be here with the Cowboys, America's Team. It's about time America likes a Ryan."
Linebacker DeMarcus Ware is a believer. He said the team is more comfortable in the system compared to last year when they had a late start because of the lockout and confusion abounded throughout the season.
"We are really comfortable," Ware said. "I can't remember any mistakes. Guys are where they need to be. It's great to see our team is getting to where it needs to be. It's going to be good defensively. We are going to be a defense to be reckoned with."
In addition to the increased familiarity with the scheme, the Cowboys are expected to be improved because of upgrades in the secondary.
With free agent cornerback Brandon Carr and rookie top pick Morris Claiborne set to start at cornerback in place of the departed Terence Newman and the demoted Mike Jenkins, Ryan has the tough, man-to-man players needed to make his scheme work.
Ryan said he likes the depth and the increased competition the Cowboys have across the board on defense.
"We are going forward," Ryan said. "We are not making excuses. We are here to get better. We are here to win."
Clarence E. Hill Jr.