IRVING, Texas - Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is moving on from last year. Or at least he's trying to.
Still asked at times about what went wrong about the 2011 season, Ryan is trying his best to move forward and be excited about the upcoming campaign. Yet, he never backs down from even the tough questions and the Cowboys' coach ultimately said his cornerbacks lost confidence toward the end of the season.
Still, like always, Ryan shoulders the blame for that and says he put them in no-win situations.
"We just didn't play with enough confidence last year in the secondary," Ryan said. "And we weren't always on the right page, either. But I'm not blaming anything or sugarcoating anything. It's the way it is. We're moving on."
Restoring confidence takes a few changes, and one of the biggest differences is in personnel.
Of the five cornerbacks who played the most last season, three are now off the roster: Terence Newman, Frank Walker and Alan Ball, who signed with the Texans this week. Orlando Scandrick is still around and Mike Jenkins remains on the roster, although he hasn't attended any of the organized team activities (OTAs) over the last three weeks. However, both head coach Jason Garrett and Ryan said on Wednesday they expect Jenkins to return for next week's mandatory minicamp. Jenkins would be subject to a $10,000 daily fine if he misses.
So Scandrick and Jenkins are expected to be in the mix for 2012, but two big-time additions have also made Ryan even more confident about the upcoming season.
"We're going to be a lot better," Ryan said. "We know that. We've gotten better. I think we've gotten great players. And people want to say 'maybe they're not so great.' But they are great. We've got the No. 1 free agent and the No. 1 draft pick. And they're both corners. I'm so excited about it."
Ryan is obviously referring to Brandon Carr, a four-year veteran from the Chiefs who signed a five-year, $50.1 million contract, whom he said was the highest-rated defensive player on the Cowboys' free-agent board. The same goes for rookie Morris Claiborne, who was the No. 2 overall player on the team's draft board, behind only Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who of course went No. 1 overall.
"We've got some really good players in the secondary this year," Ryan said. "I think we had some last year, but they just got beat down so much by the end of the year, we weren't a very confident group. I think we'll play with more confidence this year and I think we'll be much better."
Last year, depth played a major role at the cornerback position, even starting in Week 1 against the Jets. With Newman out with a groin injury he suffered in camp, Scandrick suffering an ankle sprain in the first quarter and Jenkins battling through a neck strain all game long, the Cowboys once had Bryan McCann, Ball and safety Barry Church in the Cowboys' nickel package. It forced them to sign Walker, a veteran journeyman, the following week.
And that's one of the main reasons why the Cowboys seem reluctant to part ways with Jenkins, despite him entering the final deal of his contract and reportedly being unhappy with his role in the defense.
But the Cowboys seem to covet the depth at corner, a stance owner Jerry Jones revealed last week when he said "no team needs Mike Jenkins more than the Cowboys."
Two weeks ago, Garrett said bluntly, "we're not going to trade Mike Jenkins. He's an important part of what we're doing."
And Ryan reiterated that point on Wednesday, suggesting that Jenkins will actually compete with Scandrick in the slot, a position that is typically used for the quicker, albeit smaller corners who can chase receivers all over the field.
Newman did it for years until Scandrick came along in 2008, having manned the middle ever since. But in an effort to get the three best corners on the field at once, it might be a spot where Jenkins can be utilized.
Ryan said he calls a defense with "at least" three corners on the field nearly a third of the time.
"I think it's over half the time. It's probably 60-65 percent of the time that you play at least three corners," Ryan said. "I'm excited about that. We've got some good cornerbacks who can help us."