- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas – When defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was shown the door after last season, it seemed much of the team's swagger and boasting went with him.
But as the Cowboys kicked off OTAs on Tuesday at Valley Ranch, safety Barry Church would not shy away from expectations.
“If we can remain healthy through the whole season, the sky’s the limit for this defense,” Church said. “I mean, we’ve got stars at every level and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the No. 1 defense in the league.”
Given that it’s May and the defense has had one day of work against the offense, the hyperbole might be understood, but Church’s point about the health of the unit is valued.
He played in only parts of three games last year before tearing his Achilles. Linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter ended up on injured reserve with toe and elbow injuries. Defensive tackle Jay Ratliff missed 10 games with groin and ankle injuries. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman (triceps) and cornerback Orlando Scandrick (wrist) also ended the year on injured reserve. Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware was limited by a shoulder injury that required postseason surgery.
Monte Kiffin took over for Ryan and has brought in his 4-3 scheme. Church likes what he sees.
“He’s a fiery guy,” Church said of the 73-year-old Kiffin. “He’s bringing a lot of energy to this defense. He’s teaching us a lot of discipline to this defense. We’re out there running to the ball every snap. Nobody’s loafing. We’re trying to strip the ball every play. He’s bringing that turnover mentality to this defense, and that’s what you need.”