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Ryan talks the talk, believing Cowboys can back it up

SAN ANTONIO -- Rob Ryan is annoyed by the insinuation that, the other day, he was running his mouth at the revamped Philadelphia Eagles.

To the new Cowboys defensive coordinator, his words went much deeper than that.

Yes, Ryan referenced the "all-hype team," something many inferred was a shot at Philly. Yup, he also declared the Cowboys will "beat their ass when we play them."

But if you read between the lines of what Ryan's saying, the message wasn't intended for the Eagles. It was shot directly to his own players, and sent in much the same way a certain sibling of his might have delivered it in New York.

Rob Ryan is entering his first season as the defensive coordinator of the Cowboys after serving in the same role with the Browns the past two years.
Rob Ryan is entering his first season as the defensive coordinator of the Cowboys after serving in the same role with the Browns the past two years. (Darren Abate/Associated Press)

That's why, when asked about the reaction within the organization to his comments, Ryan said Wednesday, "I don't even know, I never even saw it." And it's also why he bristled when asked about the comments being used to instill a swagger.

"You can't talk noise if you don't have the players to back it up," Ryan said, entering the tunnel at the Alamodome. "We always walk the walk. Anybody that knows a Ryan knows they walk the walk. We don't talk the talk, we walk it. Our guys are gonna be good, and we know it. So that ain't talkin'. That's just the (bleepin') way it is."

Blunt? Sure. But the defense could use some of that.

Last year, Dallas finished 23rd in total defense, despite having high-priced and/or highly-drafted talent at most positions. The Cowboys yielded 27.2 points per game, second worst in the league, and 6.4 points more per game than what Ryan got out of a less talented group in Cleveland.

The bottom line is that what Ryan's selling, a sea change from the demeanor of Wade Phillips -- who was actually once Buddy Ryan's defensive coordinator in, yup, Philly -- is exactly what the Cowboys were looking to buy when they hired him.

So straight-laced and conservative as Ryan's new boss, Jason Garrett, is, there's no way he could've been shocked by what his defensive coordinator said earlier in the week. Others in the organization certainly weren't.

"I laughed. I thought it was in good fun. It was competitive, and that doesn't bother me a bit," said Cowboys COO Stephen Jones. "That's part of what you get, when you get Rob. He's got that type of personality. First of all, he's a brilliant football guy, but he's also very competitive, he's gregarious and that's good. That's what you're going to get, and it's what we wanted."

But, of course, it's only part of the package with Ryan. He served under Bill Belichick for four years as a linebackers coach, helping run the defense with Eric Mangini in 2000 before Romeo Crennel arrived with the Patriots. Ryan's been a coordinator the past seven years, five in Oakland and the last two in Cleveland.

His dad, Buddy, is considered one of the great defensive minds of the past few decades, and Rob has two Super Bowl rings himself.

So Rob is a guy with football chops.

"You already know his swag, his personality, but once you see the schemes and what he's trying to get done, guys playing different roles, it makes it really fun," said Cowboys Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff. "You'll never know where we're coming from."

But it's always going to be his delivery of the message that gets the attention. There's no gray area. Whatsoever.

"One funny thing he said when he first got here -- 'You look at me, and you have an opinion of me.' But I have one of you, too," Ratliff continued, now cracking a smile. "That's the type of guy he is. He's just down-to-earth, approachable, and guys are eager to play for him. He's just an honest, straight-forward coach. You know exactly what you're getting. What else can you ask for?"

Even with the endorsement, there are plenty of challenges ahead for Ryan.

For one, he's dealing with the same challenge as every new coordinator -- compressing what normally would be a six-month offseason into six weeks. For another, he's charged with lighting a fire under players like Anthony Spencer and Mike Jenkins, who broke out in 2009 only to regress badly in 2010.

On the flip side, there is front line talent in players like Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware.

"I think we've got a lot of talent here, but in the NFL, you're gonna have a lot of talent," said Ryan. "There's special players. Like this DeMarcus Ware, he's something I've never seen on a football field, so he's that special. But the Cleveland group was smart and tough, and our second year there I thought we really showed that."

"Our guys are gonna be good, and we know it. So that ain't talkin'. That's just the (bleepin') way it is."

-- Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan on his unit's potential.

The message there, again, appears to be to his own guys. Simply, he seems to be saying, you've got talent, but you've got to be smart and tough, too, things the Cowboys weren't on defense for much of the 2010 season.

"I've always believed that if you put a suit on and you look good, you feel good," said Ryan's staff mate and Dallas secondary coach Dave Campo. "And it's kind of the same mentality. If you are expected to do something, you usually react that way. If you don't have those expectations, if you don't have a goal of getting anywhere, you won't know how to get there. You gotta have a goal, and you gotta get the roadmap, and hopefully that's what he brings to the table."

Clearly, Ryan expects plenty of his defensive players, much more than what they produced last year.

And if the Eagles don't like it, Ryan would tell you, then that's not his problem.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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