- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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It strikes me that, no matter what happens in free agency, the most significant 2011 newcomer in the NFC East could be new Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Dallas needs, surely, to augment its defensive personnel. And how they do in adding secondary help and addressing the defensive end spots will determine a lot. But so will Ryan and his ability to successfully install his defense in a very compressed period of time. He has some nice, talented pieces in guys like DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff and Bradie James, and there are more pieces on the way once free agency starts. But it'll be up to Ryan to bring it all together and make sure the Cowboys defense shows improvement over the dismal performance it turned in in 2010.
Likewise, in Philadelphia, there have been changes on the defensive coaching staff. Longtime Eagles offensive line coach Juan Castillo has been promoted, oddly, to defensive coordinator. But I believe the more significant hire in many ways is that of defensive line coach Jim Washburn. He's one of the most respected assistant coaches in the game, and the ability to add a coach with Washburn's level of experience is part of the reason Andy Reid felt good about turning Castillo, an offensive position coach, into his defensive coordinator. It's as if Reid surveyed the field and determined that adding Washburn as line coach would help the defense more than hiring one of the available experienced coordinators.
But because of his track record (and Castillo's lack thereof), Washburn bears a great deal of the responsibility for the performance of the Eagles' defense in 2011. There is talk that he will have major input in personnel acquisitions in free agency -- that the Eagles will be on the hunt for a defensive end to play opposite Trent Cole, and that the new defensive philosophy will be to lean heavily on the front four as a pressure unit, with linebackers playing more of a supporting role and the secondary perhaps playing a little more conservatively than they did in the brief, turnover-obsessed Sean McDermott era.
So I put it to you, on this Fired-up Friday: Which of these two new defensive coaches will have the greater impact on his team in 2011? Ryan in Dallas or Washburn in Philadelphia?
I say Ryan, and my reason is because the most important changes in Dallas will be culture- and attitude-related changes. Ryan will bring an entirely new personality and feel to the defense, and the Cowboys players on that side of the ball need to have a fire lit under them. Assuming they all learn quickly, it won't be difficult for the current Cowboys defenders to perform in Ryan's scheme if they play to their capabilities. Many of them, last year, did not. I think Ryan's the kind of guy who can change the way players think, feel, act and motivate themselves. And for that reason, I like him to have the bigger impact on his defense than the Washburn/Castillo combo will have in Philadelphia.
But what do you guys think?
It strikes me that, no matter what happens in free agency, the most significant 2011 newcomer in the NFC East could be new Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.