The agreement between the NFL's owners and players, which signaled the end of the league's lockout, meant a number of things: teams could begin their training camps, cut players with cumbersome contracts and start signing their draft picks.
It also meant that the feeding frenzy known as free agency was up and running.
But while football fans everywhere focused on the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha, Sidney Rice, Plaxico Burress and DeAngelo Williams, and whether they would remain with their former teams or move on, the Dallas Cowboys quietly made a signing that few people noticed but could turn out to have a major impact on their defense.
Defensive end Kenyon Coleman is back for his second tour of duty with the team. Coleman played with the Cowboys from 2003-06, before spending two seasons with the New York Jets and the last two years with the Cleveland Browns.
It's those last two seasons where Coleman might have learned the most to help his old-and-new team; with the Browns, Coleman played for new Dallas defensive coordinator Roy Ryan. He played in 29 games over the last two seasons, starting 27, and collected 106 tackles in the process. Coleman said the effectiveness of Ryan's 3-4 defense comes from the architect of the scheme more than merely the X's and O's.
"This is the NFL, so you have smart coaches but the unique thing about (Ryan) is that not only is he intelligent, but he's passionate about what he does, and he's passionate, I think, even more about his players," Coleman said. "When you have a guy that's for you like that it makes you want to perform.
Coleman said there will be a period of adjustment, as there is any time a player moves to a new team. He does have the advantage of knowing Ryan's system, but he said there will be some new terminology, and obviously he has to get used to playing with new teammates.
"To me 3-4 is 3-4, but obviously there's different terms, different lingo," Coleman said. "So for me, this is the same defense I've been playing for seven years. I would just say that we're a 3-4 team, but you will see a lot of different fronts."
Although in his first year with the current version of the Cowboys, Coleman is now viewed as one of the leaders on defense, at least while the rest of his teammates catch up. Coleman said his new teammates have not treated him like a coach, but some have asked questions, and he said he is more than willing to share what he knows about Ryan's system.
"I wouldn't say (the other players are) leaning on me, but I'd say just asking questions," Coleman said. "For me, this is comfortable, because (of Ryan) and knowing some of the guys from when I was here before. Guys are trying to get familiar with the terms and the technique of this defense."
"This is pro football, these are professionals. I don't think it should be a problem. They're smart guys out here. That's what we get paid to do is to play football and to learn so I don't think it should be a problem. I think (the talent) speaks for itself. DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman — there are great players pretty much everywhere, so I think we're all right."
The Cowboys finished the 2010 regular season ranked 23rd in the NFL in total defense, including 26th against the pass. Most of the unit's starters from 2010 are back, but Coleman said the addition of Ryan and his intensity should do wonders to improve the Dallas defense.
"He's just going to get the best out of you," Coleman said, "because he's a guy you want to play for."
Keep an eye on Coleman
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