Dallas expects improved defense with same players

After giving up a franchise-worst 436 points last season, the

Dallas Cowboys are depending on basically the same defense to be

better this year.

There are 10 of 11 defensive starters back in their positions.

It would be all 11 if not for Alan Ball returning to cornerback

from safety, where Abram Elam takes over after the free agent

signed this week.

Sure, there is new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan – the son of

Buddy and twin brother of Rex. 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,” Pro Bowl linebacker

DeMarcus Ware said.

So just how can they expect to be a better defense with the same

players?

Because they have been good before.

Those 10 returning starters were also part of one of the NFL’s

best defenses in 2009, when the Cowboys were NFC East champions.

They finished that regular season with the only consecutive

shutouts in franchise history before the team’s first playoff

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,” owner Jerry Jones 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 got shattered in a hurry.

Despite all the players back from a playoff-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. Head coach Wade Phillips, also the defensive coordinator,

was fired after a 45-7 loss at Green Bay.

The Packers were among eight opponents to score at least 30

points against Dallas (6-10). The previous season under Phillips,

the Cowboys allowed an NFC-low 250 points with only two teams

getting to 30 points.

”Last year was a little bit predictable, I guess,” safety

Gerald Sensabaugh said. ”Rob moves around a lot. Last year’s

defense wasn’t to trick the offense. It was more like we are just

going to win our one-on-one battles. This defense has a little bit

of trickery to it. Everybody line up on the line of scrimmage and

stuff like that. It makes it hard on the quarterback. As long as

you have the athletes to play in a system like this, you should be

good to go.”

Jason Garrett, who replaced Phillips as head coach midway

through last season and had the interim tag removed after the

season, likes the new defensive scheme. He believes that will make

a big difference even without a bunch of personnel changes.

Soon after taking the job, Ryan declared that the Cowboys

defense could be among the best in the NFL this season and that he

would be tough and aggressive. After the 4 1/2-month NFL lockout

took away the chance to install the system during offseason

workouts, his message to players when camp started was that they

have to do their part.

”The first thing he said, the players make my defense, my

defense don’t make the players,” Ware said. `It feels really good

coming from a guy like Rob Ryan, because everybody knows how good

his defenses have been. … With our defense, we have a lot of

athletes, guys that can play multiple positions, and that’s what he

likes.”

Ware said having the continuity of the same teammates helps

since they are all familiar with each other while moving around in

the scheme. And they are not harping on the disappointment of last

season.

”You sort of let the offseason lull let down and quiet that,

and really just look forward to this season. Getting better and

sort of getting that bad taste out of your mouth,” Ware said.

”You know what, we weren’t a 6-10 team last year, but that’s what

the record was. With new improvements we have on defense, and the

offense is always going to keep rolling, I think there’s not going

to be a 6-10 season this year.”

Notes: The Cowboys will scrimmage Sunday. Garrett said he plans

some live full-speed action along with situational work, such as

red zone and end-of-game plays. … Garrett plans to call Denver

coach John Fox to make sure the ”good friends” are on the same

page about how they will approach the preseason opener Thursday

night after no offseason workouts and only two weeks of training

camp. Garrett expects coaches around the league to be having

similar conversations leading up to the first preseason games. …

RG Montrae Holland missed practice for the second day in a row

because of back stiffness.