Back in January, before free agency and the draft, Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan was asked about what the team needed. His reply was simple:
"I'm only looking at DBs. Nothing else. DBs."
In interviews on May 30th, during the second session of Cowboys OTAs, Ryan was pretty much only talking DBs. Nothing else. DBs.
He has a lot to talk about. Free agent acquisitions CB Brandon Carr and S Brodney Pool were joined during the draft by top-ranked defensive prospect CB Morris Claiborne and S Matt Johnson, and during the OTAs to date some other names, such as CB Teddy Williams, a practice squad player from last year, and UDFA Isaac Madison have gotten some attention. And the biggest topic of discussion has been the Mike Jenkins situation, with rumors flying about trade offers while Jenkins remains the only Cowboys player to not show up for the OTAs (excepting rookie Matt Johnson, who cannot participate under league rules until his school, Eastern Washington, completes its academic year.)
After the OTA on Wednesday (including a video review session for the media guys that I would give up what little remains of my dignity and self respect to have attended), Rob answered a variety of questions about the secondary and his plans for using his new arsenal of weapons.
A rundown of the topics after the jump.
The draft day trade to move up for Pick 6 Morris Claiborne was the biggest story of the offseason, deservedly creating a great deal of excitement for us in fan land. But before that, the biggest thing was signing Brandon Carr. And Rob Ryan is feeling good about it.
"He's actually better (than expected)," Ryan said. "He's outstanding. I knew he was great, but the guy is special."
Everyone knows Ryan tends to pump up his players. What makes Carr so special?
"Just because he shuts down everybody," Ryan said. "He can cover anybody. He's got long arms, great length and he's a great person who works his tail off. He takes coaching, and I'm really impressed with him."
- Tim MacMahon | ESPN Dallas
Ryan goes on to say that he is already making plans to use Carr to cover the other team's top receiving threat - and MacMahon sees him getting the assignment to cover one Victor Cruz in the season opener. Ryan also cited some more specific reasons for his expectations for Carr.
"He can play any spot," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "He's already played right, now he looks like he's a natural at left, so he can play anywhere we need him."
Carr's 6-0, 207-pound frame gives him a chance against the bigger wideouts that have given the Cowboys problems in recent years.
Of course, Rob is not forgetting that rookie the Cowboys traded up to get, either.
The Cowboys have yet to see Morris Claiborne in action. He still is recovering from left wrist surgery and is not expected to be practicing until training camp in July. Still, the Cowboys like what they have seen enough to all but hand him the starting job . . . "In my opinion, everybody earns however many reps they get or their starting spot," Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "Obviously, this guy's a unique talent. We didn't move up in the draft to get a guy that's not going to play. We've got an outstanding guy here."
This means that the two starting jobs would appear to be locked up this year. Which leads to the subject of Mike Jenkins, who has made no secret of his wish to be traded elsewhere. If he is not traded (and according to Jerry Jones and everyone else who has discussed the subject, the team has no plans to do so at this time), then what does that mean for his role on the team?
In other words, Mike Jenkins lost his starting job this offseason. Not that Jenkins, who is exercising his right to avoid voluntary workouts at Valley Ranch, wasn't well aware of that.
If (or when) Jenkins rejoins the Cowboys, the reality is that he'll be competing with Orlando Scandrick for the third cornerback role. And it'd be a mistake to assume that Scandrick has the edge because of the five-year, $27 million contract extension he signed last summer.
If Scandrick has an edge, it's because he has significant experience playing in the slot. Jenkins, who wants a new contract now but will have to wait until March to enter free agency, can increase his value by proving that he's versatile enough to play in the slot.
It's also possible that Carr or Claiborne could move inside when the Cowboys use three corners, something Terence Newman did for much of his career.
The Cowboys will get their best corners on the field, and it's already assumed that the rookie ranks among their top two.
Of course, there has been talk from some (including, not surprisingly, Jerry Jones) about putting the top four cornerbacks on the field at the same time. But Ryan is not so sure.
If you listen to Jerry Jones, you'll come away convinced that the Cowboys are going to revolutionize the NFL by putting four cornerbacks on the field on a regular basis.
Maybe somebody should get that memo to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Ryan didn't rule out putting the four cornerbacks on the field together at times. However, he sounded lukewarm on the idea of playing Mike Jenkins or Orlando Scandrick at safety, which would be necessary to put four corners on the field when the opposing offense doesn't use four wide receivers.
"I don't know if we'll do that," Ryan said. "If we ever get in a need to play all those guys, then we can do that certainly. They have good skill sets where I'm sure they could match up with a tight end, a smaller tight end or whatever. It's just if that need ever shows up, then you can definitely play those four guys."
While Rob clearly likes the idea of having as many capable corners as he can, he sees it as a depth/injury issue, not for a four cornerback set. Rather, he is more inclined to look for safety play to improve this year. While the safety position did not get the high-profile names that cornerback did, the team has taken steps to improve the play there.
After playing on three straight one-year contracts, Gerald Sensabaugh got a long-term commitment from the club last year, but the other job is wide open.
The primary competitors are Brodney Pool, a seven-year veteran who the Cowboys signed to a modest one-year deal in March, and former undrafted Barry Church, who has played mostly special teams and the occasional subpackage over the last two years.
"I think that's going to be a hell of a competition," Ryan said. "Both of them are kind of coming off being banged up, but both of them have got a lot of talent, so I think it'll be a good thing. I think Gerald is clearly establishing himself as a leader back there."
This does not even mention Matt Johnson, the rookie that has several people here at BTB excited. The reviews indicate that he could challenge for a starting spot once he gets here and can start participating in practices (which should be the minicamp for him), or at least become an excellent backup.
It's nice to hear the DC's version of things, because I subscribe to the theory that the coaches are actually making the important decisions around Valley Ranch nowadays. Summing things up, the bottom line is that Ryan seems to expect better play from the safeties, and a major upgrade with the cornerbacks. It's all good.