SAN ANTONIO -- The Dallas Cowboys are not where they need to be as a defense.
We don't know who will be the starting defensive end or the starting free and strong safeties.
And there is this little thing of fixing a unit that allowed a franchise-record 436 points last season.
Rob Ryan, the man hired to solve those problems, isn't afraid to tell you he is the person to do it.
A robust man with long gray hair and a goatee to match, Ryan certainly stands out. During a passing drill with the outside linebackers, Ryan told DeMarcus Ware, "Now this guy will haul ass, and you turn this way to stay with him."
This is how Ryan does it. He's loud, professional and fun, and well, he knows what he's doing.
He joked during one of his first meetings here with the defense that it felt like a Pro Bowl session because of all the talent in the room.
"I think he's a coach that holds everybody accountable across the board. There is no double standard," inside linebacker Keith Brooking said. "He's serious and intense, but at the same time he's loose and cracks jokes and has fun. He's a great personality. I've been around a lot of characters, and they weren't very good football coaches. But when you have a coach like him and you're around him for a very short period of time, you see his knowledge and what he has in store for us defensively, [and] that's a lot of fun."
Ware, a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, is Ryan's best talent. Ryan plans to make Ware even better by asking him to blitz from different sides of the line of scrimmage -- possibly playing defensive end -- and putting him in pass coverage.
Ryan has other changes in store, such as creeping the safeties up to the line of scrimmage or blitzing cornerbacks. He blitzed a cornerback in the walkthrough practice Thursday morning.
During some individual drills, defensive line coach Brian Baker told his players to "burst" into the blocker, meaning he wants them to be aggressive.
The Cowboys want to have fun on defense this season after a disappointing 2010 that saw free safety Alan Ball give up seven touchdown passes and outside linebacker Anthony Spencer go eight weeks without a sack.
Ryan said he liked what he saw from his unit in the first day of practice, particularly the tempo.
He knows there is much to learn for his players this year.
"I looked at the playbook, tried to keep some of the terminology but changed some of it," Ryan said of last year's scheme. "[Corner blitzing] hopefully, it's well coordinated."
Said Brooking: "We have a lot of options, and our playbook is very thick. It is complex. It's something that can be really, really good for everyone. When we do learn it, there won't be any excuses for anybody."
Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.