Give or take, the Cowboys defense will be on the field for 1,000 snaps in the 2011 season. If new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan gets his wish, he'll present opposing offenses with 1,000 different looks.
"That'd be ideal," Ryan says, only half-joking. "The goal is to yank the quarterback out of his comfort zone. Either with real pressure or just from giving him the threat of pressure from different looks. Chaos. That's what it's all about."
So far, so good.
On the first defensive snap of the preseason, Ryan's defense lined up in Tom Landry's old Flex alignment, just for fun. It featured roster long-shot linebacker Kenwin Cummings — wearing Randy White's old No. 54 — in a four-point stance, about three yards off the ball. Later in the game, linebacker DeMarcus Ware, one of the NFL's best pass-rushers off the corner, lined up inches over the center.
The statue fits the sculptor. Ryan — think Lebowski, but bigger and presumably less high — is bizarre, with long, unruly gray hair, a physique that looks like he's stowing a keg of beer under his XXXXXXL T-shirt, and a mouth made for late-night cable. Asked to assess his defense one week into training camp, Ryan offered, humbly: "We're gonna be pretty fuckin' good."
He is colorful. Unpredictable. Mesmerizing. Inspirational. Vulgar. Alive. In other words, he's everything Wade Phillips wasn't.
But is he any good? Is Ryan truly a beast of a defensive coach? Or merely a blowhard who camouflages his mediocre résumé in bravado?
The son of former Cowboys nemesis and notorious asshole Buddy Ryan, Remus "Rob" Ryan has been an NFL defensive coordinator for seven seasons. In all but one of those years his unit ranked 22nd or worse. He's had one team — the 2004 Oakland Raiders — rank in the top five, but his last two defenses, with the Cleveland Browns, finished 31st and 22nd.
He takes over a Cowboys defense lacking an identity, which makes him a perfect fit and a breath of fresh, albeit pungent, air on a team that sleep-walked through 2010. Under Phillips, the Cowboys defense was 9th in the NFL in 2009 but 23rd last year.
With only Abe Elam (a two-year starter for Ryan in Cleveland) added to the starting lineup, which Cowboys defense will we see in 2011?
"In case you haven't noticed, I wasn't here last year," Ryan says. "Fuck, what do I know? Everybody has a bad year. What, is every year of your life the same and they've all been outstanding? If so, congratulations. If not, just like the rest of us, you tried like hell to learn from the bad ones and tried not to make the same stupid mistakes over and over. That's it."
Ol' Remus is big on belly and slim on modesty. He may not be the best defensive coordinator in Cowboys history, but he's already the most entertaining.
On his defensive philosophy: "It's called the 'kill the quarterback.' Pretty simple, huh?"
On nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick: "He's a special player. One of the best cover guys in the league. If you don't believe me then you're an idiot, because I know a lot more than you."
On his ability as a defensive coordinator: "One of the best, if not the best. I ain't real pretty but I can coach the shit out of some football. I'll put me up against anybody, how's that?"
On getting the Cowboys job: "I'm the right guy to make this happen. I'm right here. Anybody can talk the talk, but I can walk the walk, baby. I'm gonna be me. You guys all say I have swagger, and I don't care what you call it, I've got it. I'm gonna be me and in the past that's usually been damn good enough to get the job done."
On the 2011 season: "We're gonna fuckin' win, and win big. I'll be a big part of it. I'm an asset. Trust me when I tell you that."
We certainly do, Rob, trust that you'll say it. But will it be true?