IRVING, Texas (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys certainly took care of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in this year’s draft.
It was so good for Ryan that midway through the final day of the draft Saturday he was heard in the hallway at Valley Ranch laughing while asking when the offensive draft was going to start.
For the first time since 1982, the Cowboys used their first four picks on defensive players. By time they were done, they had used five of their seven selections on players for Ryan’s side of the ball.
“It wasn’t by design,” owner Jerry Jones insisted after the draft, then joking that Ryan was upset he didn’t also get the other two picks. “Our defensive guys are pleased with what we may have here in terms of helping our defense.
The Cowboys quickly set a tone for this draft, trading up eight spots and giving up their second-round pick to get cornerback Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick on the opening night. The All-American from LSU was the first defender chosen by any team.
They kept it up getting Boise State defensive end Tyrone Crawford 81st overall in the third round, then started Saturday using both of their fourth-round picks for defense: Wake Forest outside linebacker Kyle Wilber (113th overall) and Eastern Washington safety Matt Johnson (135th overall).
Dallas waited until the fifth round to pick an offensive player, getting Virginia Tech receiver Danny Coale with the 152nd overall pick.
“Candidly, when I looked up there when we took Coale, we were considering another defensive player,” Jones said.
Oklahoma tight end James Hanna was added 186th overall in the sixth round before the Cowboys finished with another defender, Montana inside linebacker Caleb McSurdy in the seventh round at 222nd overall.
Stephen Jones, the team’s director of player personnel, said there were opportunities to move around some picks, but no reason to.
“When we got ready to pick, there was a player there we really liked and really fit with what we were trying to get accomplished with our team,” Stephen Jones said. “We just felt real comfortable with our board, and really were able to take good football players at each spot.”
Within minutes after the draft ended, the Cowboys were already working to sign about two dozen rookie free agents.
Among those signed was Memphis offensive guard Ronald Leary, a 6-3, 325-pounder that Jerry Jones indicated could be an instant contributor. Leary apparently went undrafted because of a chronic knee problem, but the Cowboys saw him in a private workout last month.
Only two of the Cowboys’ eight draft picks last April were used on defenders, which came after Ryan was hired to improve a defensive unit that had just given up the most points and most yards in team history
Ryan had to install his version of the 3-4 scheme without the benefit of offseason workouts during the NFL lockout, and went into last season with pretty much the same players from the previous year.
The Cowboys still vastly improved on defense, allowing 22 points and 343 yards per game, but missed the playoffs after losing four of their last five games to finish 8-8 while blowing five fourth-quarter leads. They could have won the NFC East had they won the season finale at the New York Giants, who went on to win the Super Bowl.
Dallas was active in free agency as well. Among the signings last month were cornerback Brandon Carr to a $50 million, five-year deal that includes $26.5 million guaranteed, safety Brodney Pool and linebacker Dan Connor.
Wilber’s only pre-draft visit was to the Cowboys, and an advantage for the 6-foot-4, 249-pound linebacker who also was a defensive end before Wake Forest switched from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4. He started 36 of his 43 games, with 195 tackles and 13 1/2 sacks.
The 6-2, 220-pound Johnson started all 38 of his games played at Eastern Washington, where he played alongside his twin brother and had 17 career interceptions. His senior season was shortened to seven games by a left biceps injury and he also had a concussion in college.
“It’s great I don’t even feel it anymore,” Johnson said when asked about his injuries. “My health is the best I’ve felt in all of college.”
McSurdy was the Big Sky Conference defensive player of the year after he had 131 tackles last season. He had 112 tackles as a junior.
Coale started 54 of his 55 games at Virginia Tech, and had 165 catches for 2,658 yards and eight touchdowns. The 6-foot, 200-pound receiver returned punts and even punted at the end of college career, averaging 43.5 yards on 13 kicks.
Hanna had 27 catches for 381 yards and two touchdowns last season for the Sooners. In 2010, seven of his 18 catches were for touchdowns.
The 6-foot-4, 244-pound Hanna is from Flower Mound, which is only a few miles from Valley Ranch. He obviously grew up a fan of the Cowboys.
Jason Witten, the Cowboys’ perennial Pro Bowl tight end, is going into his 10th season, all with the Cowboys, making him the team’s longest-tenured player. Tight end Martellus Bennett left Dallas in free agency during the offseason.
“Honestly I didn’t know where I was going to go, and just coming to the Cowboys, it was an even better feeling than I thought it would be to just be drafted,” Hanna said. “(Witten) is my role model. I’ve grown up all through football, since I’ve been playing, a Cowboys fan just watching him and he’s been there a long time. He’s a great player and I’m really looking forward to getting to learn from him.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)