Earlier, we looked at Rob Ryan's former players that might be candidates to join the Cowboys secondary. Now it's time to get into the strong men on the defense, the front seven. The play of the defensive line and linebacker crew is what makes or breaks the scheme, as the secondary relies on the front guys causing pressure so they do not have to stay in coverage for what seems an eternity.
Dallas is fortunate to have a DeMarcus Ware, a force of nature of which Rob Ryan has never had the luxury to coach, as threat A, B, and C. Dallas also has a Pro Bowl nose tackle in Jay Ratliff, solid veteran ILB Bradie James and young players Sean Lee and Anthony Spencer. Despite not turning the corner that was expected by many Dallas fans, Spencer did turn in a legitimate showing during the 2010 season. His run support seems to be his best attribute and he graded out well in that category with a +9.1 rating, second on the team.
The Cowboys could be looking for replacements for several players currently on the roster such as Keith Brooking and former first-round pick Marcus Spears. Upgrades across the board, save for DeMarcus' spot, seem to be in order considering the way the defense plummeted in every major category in 2010. Even nose tackle could be changed, as a Ratliff move to the end position to maximize his pass rushing could mean a new man in the middle.
With that said, the defense obviously needs work, and in today's NFL, coaches love to bring in their guys to help institute their schemes and work ethic. Using Profootballfocus.com's 2008-2010 grades, let's take a look at the players Rob Ryan has coached in previous stops that are free agents for 2011.
Follow the jump for 'front-seven' players that have laced them up under Rob Ryan.
- Kamerion Wimbley, LB, Oakland Raiders. Kamerion's time with Rob Ryan actually occurred in Cleveland. He was with the Browns' his entire career, through 2009 when he was traded for the draft pick that became Colt McCoy. He graded out at +21.1 according to PFF.com. A versatile player that can go between 3-4 and 4-3, linebacker and end in each scheme, he is expected to be one of the Raiders top priorities this off-season. Wimbley had 9 sacks on the season. May not be a target although he had such great marks this year as a 4-3 OLB, he rated a -11.0 in his last year in Cleveland under Rob Ryan as a 3-4 OLB. That might be a reason Mike Holmgren was willing to shop him.
- Chris Gocong, ILB, Cleveland Browns. Gocong led the Browns with a +18.5 rating according to PFF.com. From what I've read, he is to be a unrestricted free agent in 2011 after signing his tender with Philly last off-season and then being traded to Cleveland. Rotoworld lists him under contract for 2011 but for the same amount as the tender in 2010, so I think they might have a typo. The Cleveland fan boards are listing him as a free agent. Gocong, 27, would definitely be an upgrade over Keith Brooking (+2.9 PFF.com rating) and might be a solid addition next to Sean Lee for years to come, and could play besides Bradie James if Lee still isn't ready to make the jump to starter. He would certainly add the depth at the position that this team lacks. 2010 was his first season as a 3-4 ILB after playing on the outside in Philly's 4-3 scheme. According to PFF.com, Gocong graded out positively in every single defensive category, run defense, pass coverage, pass rush and penalties.
Robaire Smith, DL, Cleveland Browns, will be a free agent this off-season. If a new CBA is signed, Smith could be a target of Dallas as a free agent addition to the line. His 2010 campaign was cut short due to a back injury that limited him to five games, and he is currently 33 years of age. In limited action, he compiled a +6.1 rating on profootballfocus.com's 2010 year end evaluations.
- Thomas Howard, LB, Oakland Raiders. Once a rising NFL star, Howard virtually fell off of everyone's radar. He definitely hasn't fit in with Oakland's change of scheme, and was relegated to minimal back up duty and stats in the 2010 season. His last season under Ryan, 2008, saw Howard compile a 8.4 pass coverage rating. In 2007 he had six picks, returning two the distance. This could be an under the radar signing that plays out down the line if Ryan can rejuvenate Howard.
- Ricky Brown, LB, Oakland Raiders. Undrafted free agent with the team since 2006. Could be brought in for depth purposes. Has been a remarkably average player with limited opportunities the last two seasons. His last year under Rob Ryan, Brown had a below average overall ranking of -5.1 in 2008.
Do any of these players whet your appetite for the 2011 Free Agent bonanza? Oakland's front seven currently boasts Richard Seymour and John Henderson as free agents, but both arrived after Ryan had moved on to Cleveland. What other defensive free agents not linked to Rob Ryan would you be interested in having wear a Cowboys uniform?