Imagine wanting to leave Hawaii for San Antonio. That's not to suggest San Antonio isn't a great city, but Hawaii is … Hawaii. Most of Texas is on a streak of scalding triple-digit temperatures, while in Hawaii, the ocean breezes are hovering — gently — in the mid-80s. Look out a window, and chances are good that the view will include mountains or palm trees or a beach.
But that's exactly what was rolling through the mind of new Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan when he visited Hawaii.
"I'm happy to be here," Ryan said Thursday. "I loved Hawaii — ‘aloha' to everybody back there — but let's play ball."
So began the Ryan Era for the Dallas Cowboys' defense. Camp has just begun, but Ryan said the first step in implementing his defensive system is evaluating the talent with which he will work in Dallas. At first glance, he said he is impressed by his players' commitment to working out while the NFL's owners and players were working out a new collective bargaining agreement.
"These guys are in great shape," he said. "They care — they care for each other (and) they want to be great, so it's outstanding. I know a lot of teams never got to work like our guys did, and that's a credit to the leadership of (Keith) Brooking and Bradie (James) and DeMarcus (Ware) and all of those guys, and obviously (Tony) Romo for the entire team. It's impressive, the shape they're in. We just have a lot to work on and (I'm) looking forward to it."
Ryan said that while the players appear to have done a good job preparing for training camp, he and the rest of the coaches will defer to the man who knows better than anyone else when the players really are in shape to endure everything that will be asked of them.
"We have the best strength coach in football: Mike Woicik," Ryan said. "He has won more Super Bowl rings (six between his first stint with the Cowboys and an 11-year run with the New England Patriots) than anybody else, so he knows what to do. He tells us what to do and how to monitor (the players), and with (head coach) Jason (Garrett)'s leadership, we're going to do the right thing. We're not going to sit here and have half of the team hurt.
Veteran linebacker Bradie James is entering his ninth season with the Cowboys, but said that Ryan's arrival marks something of a new beginning for all of the defensive players, adding that the team's player-led workouts during the league's lockout allowed the defensive players to start learning Ryan's new ‘Wild' system.
"The ‘Wild' is exciting, but right now I feel like I'm a rookie again," James said. "I have three different playbooks. (Ryan's defense) can be complex, and we didn't have the benefit of OTAs (and) mini-camps, but we got some things done.
"From a player's standpoint, it's good to have guys like (Keith) Brooking (DeMarcus) Ware, Jay Ratliff … while everybody thought we were sitting on our couches, we were putting our heads together, trying to make sure that everybody is on the same page, because this defense is more on a communicative basis, so we all have to be on the same page, as with every defense. But the thing about ‘Wild' is, you won't be able to know what defense we're in. We had gotten to that point where (opponents) were just knowing what was going on. Now it's very interesting — it's very interesting. We're looking forward to just getting in. We're getting started."
The Cowboys have just begun the process of learning their new defense, but veteran linebacker Keith Brooking said that Ryan already has shown that he is capable of making the learning process enjoyable.
"He makes it fun," Brooking said. "It's serious yet loose, and fun. He's doing a great job. Guys are buying into it. You can see that right now — it's very evident."
Ryan might not be as famous as his brother, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, but he already is showing the same sort of selfless attitude that has made his brother one of the most popular soundbytes in American sports. When asked about why he and new Dallas linebackers coach Matt Eberflus alternated working with the first- and second-team defenses, he had no problem handing out praise to Eberflus as a way of showing that two teachers can be better than one.
"Matt Ebrflus is a better coach than I am, so those guys are being coached really well," Ryan said. "But we switch — I'll take the ‘ones' with me and (secondary coach Dave) Campo, figure we've got a bunch of experience so we've got one group, and then our other coaches are outstanding and they've got the other group. Then we switch them, so we're not always coaching the same people."
Ryan Hits Ground Running
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