Rob Ryan, the Cowboys defensive coach, is determined to turn things around in Dallas.
New Dallas defensive coach Ryan looks for the class of 2009
After giving up a franchise-worst 436 points last season, the Dallas Cowboys are depending on basically the same defence to be better this year.
There are 10 of 11 defensive starters back in their positions. Sure, there is a new defensive co-ordinator, Rob Ryan. But the brash and confident coach with a different playbook inherited a group coming off a season that started with hopes of being the first team to play in a Super Bowl at home and instead turned into an absolute misery.
"It's the same players, but different mentality, different motivation and sort of like a new rebirth," DeMarcus Ware, the Pro Bowl linebacker, said.
So just how can they expect to be a better defence with the same players? One reason is, they have been good before.
Those 10 returning starters were also part of one of the NFL's best defences in 2009, when the Cowboys were the NFC East champions. They finished that regular season with the only consecutive shutouts in franchise history before the team's first play-off victory in 13 years.
"I do know that we all thought we had the players on the defensive side of the ball last year that could play better than we did," Jerry Jones, the owner, said.
"You've got different potentials out here. You've got some that are not going to play over their potential, really. But I am satisfied with our personnel right now. We've got defensive personnel that can play at a level you might say we expected last year."
Jones never made a secret of his desire for the Cowboys to be in the Super Bowl being played at their new stadium last season. That dream was quickly shattered.
Despite all the players back from a play-off winning team, the Cowboys lost seven of their first eight games last year. That led to Jones making the first midseason coaching change in team history. Wade Phillips, the head coach and defensive co-ordinator, left after a 45-7 loss at Green Bay.
The previous season under Phillips, the Cowboys allowed an NFC-low 250 points.
"Last year was a little bit predictable, I guess," Gerald Sensabaugh, the safety, said. "Rob moves around a lot. Last year's defence wasn't to trick the offence. It was more like we are just going to win our one-on-one battles. This defence has a bit of trickery to it."
Jason Garrett, who replaced Phillips as head coach midway through last season, likes the new defensive scheme. He believes that will make a big difference even without personnel changes.
Soon after taking the job, Ryan declared that the Cowboys defence could be among the best in the NFL this season and that he would be tough and aggressive. His message to players when camp started was that they have to do their part.
"The first thing he said, the players make my defence, my defence don't make the players," Ware said. 'It feels really good coming from a guy like Rob Ryan, because everybody knows how good his defences have been."