Cowboys defense to focus on basics

Updated: May 4, 2012, 9:33 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- After spending the 2011 season watching his defense finish 14th overall and 23rd against the pass, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has decided to go back to the basics and teach his defensive scheme at a slower pace.

"I thought our guys played hard," said Ryan, adding that he won't simplify things for the players. "We weren't always smart. We weren't always on the same page. We want to eliminate some bad football.

"When we look back at ourselves and re-evaluate, I think I started a little too fast and put in the accelerated program without the English 101, which I always struggled with. So we are excited about this. We've got players. We've always had players. I think we need to take the time to re-teach everything, to get our fundamentals here."

Communication issues in the secondary were one of the problems plaguing the defense last season. Too many times players were pointing at each other after allowing big plays.

"I think first of all, it starts with me," Ryan said. "I think I put a little too much in and too fast. And we didn't have any basics. We had no foundation. ... Everything was new. I am not making any excuses for why we did bad or whatever. I'm terrible. The bottom line is this helps. It's like getting a tutor. If my kid gets a tutor, he gets 90s in math. If he doesn't, 40s. We need 90s or 100s and that's what he's going to get."

The Cowboys made numerous changes to a defense that blew three games after having leads of 12 points or more in the fourth quarter.

Gone are veterans Terence Newman, Keith Brooking, Bradie James and Abram Elam. New to the defense are free agent CB Brandon Carr and five draft picks on that side of the ball, highlighted by LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.

"I know one thing, when you really add some excellent players like we've done, it makes my job a hell of a lot easier, and we are looking forward to it," Ryan said. "Oh, I'm excited. I mean there is no question. I try not to say anything a little outrageous. I'm just excited to be a Dallas Cowboy, and I can't wait to deliver on some of this stuff I've been telling you about.

"I just think we will be better than I think we are going to be. We are going to be damn good."

Clairborne will have the pins removed from his left wrist next week and begin rehabbing. He is expected to be ready for the opening of training camp. The Cowboys want Claiborne to use the offseason to get used to the playbook.

"Just learn professional football and what our defense sounds like and getting the communication," Ryan said.

Claiborne got his playbook Thursday and opened it up on the walk back from the coaches' offices to the locker room.

"Football is pretty much football anywhere you are, but on this level, it's a lot faster," Claiborne said. "A lot more goes into it. I pretty much picked up on it, on everything where everybody is supposed to be, where I'm supposed to be. It came pretty easy to me."

Information from ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer was used in this report.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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