Commentary

No position safe on a D built to fear

Ryan spares no feelings instilling competition to fix Cowboys' 14th-ranked defense

Updated: August 1, 2012, 3:38 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

OXNARD, Calif. -- Rob Ryan isn't going to boast to reporters about what he expects from the Dallas Cowboys' defense this season. He has seen what happens when his words are thrown back at him when things don't work out.

So Ryan is sending his message to his players:

Put up or shut up.

"Defensively, I feel like it's going to be good," outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "We're going to be a defense to be reckoned with this year. It's put up or shut up, that's what it is. Are we gonna do it or not? Are you gonna step up to the plate? It's all the time."

[+] EnlargeRob Ryan
AP Photo/James D SmithCliche or not, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has made it clear everyone -- the greenest rookies to the most grizzled vets -- will have to put up or shut up at training camp to secure their spots.
In the offseason the Cowboys were determined to fix a defense that gave up 3,906 passing yards last season, the 10th most in the NFL. Overall, the defense ranked 14th in 2011.

The changes were swift.

The Cowboys used five of their seven draft picks on defensive players. They moved up from No. 14 to No. 6 to select the best corner in the draft, LSU's Morris Claiborne.

The Cowboys signed Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50.1 million deal, with $25.5 million guaranteed in free agency. Dan Connor signed for two seasons at $6.5 million. Brodney Pool inked a one-year deal for $1.2 million.

The Cowboys created competition at various positions and aren't worried about hurt feelings. Mike Jenkins saw two new corners arrive on the scene as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

Robert Calloway, Josh Brent, Sean Lissemore and Clifton Geathers will be given a chance to make the roster over veterans Kenyon Coleman and Marcus Spears.

Even Pool's spot isn't guaranteed. Barry Church received first-team reps the first two days of training camp practices.

"Competition makes everybody better," Ryan said. "Some people don't want it. They don't want that, but this is going to make us all better. We've got great coaches in here to push these guys, and it's going to be great. This isn't a one-man show at all."

This really is a one-man show when it comes to seeking answers.

When the defense struggles, the fans and the media want to know why through Ryan. At times, the pass rush disappeared and the secondary failed to contain the deep ball. And despite success against the run, the defense needed fixing.

It had to be troubling for Ryan to watch last season's problems with his defense.

"Hell, that's my group," Ryan said. "It's on me. So it's pretty damn hard."

Ryan has to fix this because there is so much on the line for him in 2012.

He wants to become a head coach, and head coaches aren't hired unless they are successful somewhere else. If Ryan improves the defense, his stature around the league increases.

"I'm not running scared. I'm not scared of anybody. I'm ready," he said. "That's why I came to Dallas. I might not have known it was going to be this much scrutiny in the media, but, believe me, I wanted to be here with the Cowboys, America's Team. It's about time America likes a Ryan."

Ryan dealt with scrutiny among the media and even the fans. When he attended a Dallas Stars game this past season, he was booed when his image was shown on the video board.

"Hey, I've been booed everywhere," he said. "I've been booed in Cleveland, I've been booed in Oakland, I've been booed … I don't think I was booed in New England, but that's what we're trying to make this place like."

The excuses are done now. Ryan can't blame the lack of an offseason program for not implementing his defense. The playbook, 499 pages, is complex, but everything has been installed.

Sean Lee, the talented inside linebacker, and Ware said the returning players have a better comfort level with the scheme.

Ryan slowed the teaching process this season because he had weeks of offseason meetings and practices to implement things.

Nobody is seeking excuses this season from Ryan's group.

It needs to produce.

"Well, I guess we're going to have to wait and see," Ryan said. "Day 1, I'm not calling anybody out. I've learned. This is a bigger media than some of the other spots that I've been, so I'm going to keep my mouth shut and work."

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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