Ryan, Cowboys make fresh start on defense

IRVING -- Rob Ryan hates losing, but in this case, loss is something to stick out his stomach about.

The Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator has lost 35 pounds.

Ryan's fraternal twin, Rex, revealed at the NFL owners meetings last month that Rob would undergo the same lap-band procedure the Jets' head coach had two years ago.

"Obviously, I have," Rob said Friday during the first day of the team's rookie minicamp. "I'm down 35 pounds already, so that's a good thing. It's only been a couple months so [my doctor] is real happy with me. Hell, I'll keep working."

Ryan and the Cowboys are back at work, trying to lose less this season. They were 8-8 in Ryan's first season as defensive coordinator, ranking 14th overall but blowing five fourth-quarter leads.

"We had a lot of issues last year in the fourth quarter," Cowboys veteran inside linebacker Sean Lee said Friday. "I think we showed at certain times we played very well, but our consistency was not very good. That is the key for us, more consistent, making plays in the fourth quarter, especially in the last two minutes. That is going to take a lot of work, a lot fundamental work, a lot of work learning the defense."

Ryan blames himself for the Cowboys' defensive problems last season. He said he gave the players too much, too fast, considering the lockout prevented any off-season work.

Ryan said he won't "dumb down" the scheme this season, but he will teach things slower.

"I thought our guys played hard," Ryan said. "We weren't always smart. We weren't always on the same page. We want to eliminate some bad football. When we look back at ourselves and re-evaluate, I think I started a little too fast and put in the accelerated program without the English 101, which I always struggled with.

"We are excited about this. We've got players. We've always had players. I think [we're] taking the time to re-teach everything, to get our fundamentals here. ... I know for a fact we have great defensive coaches. ...We are taking our time to teach defense the way it needs to be taught, and we will be fine."

The Cowboys signed three free-agent defenders, cornerback Brandon Carr, linebacker Dan Connor and safety Brodney Pool. All three are expected to start.

Five of their seven draft picks were used on defensive players, including first-round cornerback Morris Claiborne, third-round defensive end Tyrone Crawford, fourth-round linebacker Kyle Wilber and fourth-round safety Matt Johnson.

On paper, as new secondary coach Jerome Henderson said, the Cowboys have upgraded their personnel on the back end of their defense. Their pass defense has been among the worst in team history the past two seasons. Dallas allowed 3,894 passing yards in 2010, only to give up 3,906 last season. Only the 1983 team, which allowed 3,928, was worse.

Three of the four starters in the secondary could be new: Carr, Pool and Claiborne.

After predicting last season that his defense would be good, Ryan's unit might be ready to back him up this season.

"I'm excited. I mean there is no question," Ryan said. "I try not to say anything a little outrageous. I'm just excited here to be a Dallas Cowboy, and I can't wait to deliver on some of this stuff I've been telling you about.

"...I learned last year maybe not to say anything. I just think we will be better than I think we are going to be. We are going to be damn good."

Charean Williams


Twitter: @NFLCharean

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