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Defensive Assistant Jim Ryan Answers Your Questions!

Posted Apr 15, 2005

Former Bronco and current Defensive Assistant Coach Jim Ryan answers fans questions.

Jim Ryan joined the Broncos coaching staff in February as the team's defensive assistant coach. Defense is something Ryan is familiar with having played 10 seasons in Denver as a linebacker from 1979-88.

The William & Mary product signed with Denver after the 1979 NFL Draft went on to play in 150 games and start 91 for the Broncos. He started at outside linebacker in Super Bowls XXI and XXII.

Ryan served as the head football coach at Regis Jesuit High School (5A) in Aurora, Colo., from 2002-04 after working as a volunteer assistant with the school from 2000-01. He was named the Denver Broncos High School Coach of the Week in October of 2002 after guiding Regis to four consecutive conference victories that clinched a playoff berth.

Ryan has been involved with the club previously through his work as president of the Denver Broncos Youth Foundation from 1992-95. In that position, he helped establish the Denver Broncos Academy as an alternative educational institution for troubled youth.

The New Jersey native now returns to the club in a coaching capacity, his first year as such at the NFL level. As he and his fellow coaches look toward the 2005 season, Ryan made time to answer some of your questions this week.  Here's what he had to say:

Mark; Centerville, Iowa
What did you see in the four Cleveland castoffs that made you bring them to Denver?

Jim Ryan
I think what we see are guys who are great players.  Three of them were former No. 1 picks that for whatever reason; maybe didn't live up to what was felt to be their potential. But I think our feeling is that they still have that potential.

Darell; Davenport, Iowa
With Trevor Pryce back at end, and the addition of the four defensive linemen from the Browns, who do you think is the front-runner to play the second defensive tackle position along side Gerard Warren?

Jim Ryan
It's hard to say. We have a couple of guys who probably are candidates for that.  I think Michael Myers and Mario Fatafehi are going to be excellent players. I think we're going to have a number of backups. It's going to be a real competitive camp in that area.  They'll all push each other.

AJ Wellman; Castle Rock, Colo.
The Denver defense is known as being statistically strong, but what do you think is the most important element missing from this defense in order to make it a playmaking defense?

Jim Ryan
Turnovers, flat out and simple. We have to do a better job of getting turnovers and better field position for our offense.  That's the only thing really missing.

Tom Purnell; Pueblo, Colo.
Do you feel that you have missed anything by jumping to the pros from the high school level without coaching at the college level? 

Jim Ryan
It's not necessarily a natural progression, they're all different. As (Head Coach) Mike Shanahan told me, football is football.  There are different levels of complexity but the concepts, philosophy and the keys to success are still the same.

Steve Nowak; Warren, Mich.
Do you think the Broncos will easily adjust to the 3-4 defense?

Jim Ryan
I'm not sure how much of that we're going to play, that's up to Coach Coyer. I think we have guys who are smart enough to jump in and out of that.

Carey Brading; Littleton, Colo.
With the signing of so many former first-round picks on defense, will you use more of a rotation system or stick with your "starting" players for the majority of plays?

Jim Ryan
A lot of those guys are on the defensive front and I think the history has been -- for every team -- you rotate defensive linemen a lot.  There aren't too may guys that play every single down.

Misty Bennett; Apple Valley, Calif.
The Broncos have one awesome corner but he can't do it by himself. Are you going to improve the secondary at all this offseason, or are you just going to change the scheme, such as the 3-4 I've been hearing about?

Jim Ryan
I think that remain to be seen. We'll see what happens in the draft.  I think the return of Lenny Walls from his injury will help us.  I feel confident that our defense is going to be pretty good.

Nelson; Nakatsu, Hawaii
How would D.J. Williams fit in as a second middle linebacker with Al Wilson in the 3-4 defense?

Jim Ryan
A second middle linebacker is a little bit of a misnomer; it's not really a second middle linebacker. In my opinion, D.J. Williams is talented enough to play any linebacker position he wants.  I really do think he's that talented and I think in the coming years he'll show that.

Wes Schrier; Columbus, Neb.
I bet it is a big jump from a high-school coach to an NFL coach. What in your opinion is the biggest difference from high school coaching to the pros?

Jim Ryan
Again football is football, but I think it really helped that I was a player, although a while ago. The concepts are still similar; the terminology is a little different.  I think it's just a higher level of complexity.

Daniel Morrissey; Fremont, Calif.
How excited are you about this year's linebacking corps?

Jim Ryan
Very; when you see the return of Ian Gold to join Al Wilson and D.J. Williams. You’d be hard pressed to find better linebackers in the NFL.

Kyle Messinger; Boise, Idaho
Do you think that the Broncos can overcome our losses at the secondary position?

Jim Ryan
Yes.  I think the secondary is going to be just fine. The return of Lenny Walls and with some added experience of other guys, we'll be okay. With the loss of Kenoy Kennedy, there's an experienced guy behind him in Nick Ferguson. I'll never say we won't miss a guy like Kenoy or Kelly Herndon, but at the same time; do we have guys that can step up and do the job? We absolutely do.

Josh; Cline, Minn.
How do you think that you can help the Broncos defense get any better?

Jim Ryan
By doing my job and helping Coach Coyer and all the other defensive coaches here do their jobs.  If I can take some of the pressure off of them by doing some of the work that they don't have time to get to, especially during the season, then we'll just be better off as a coaching staff.

Mark Novak; St. Louis, Mo.
My question goes back to your playing days lining up next to Randy Gradishar. Do you believe that your group of linebackers would be successful and would excel in today's NFL and was Gradishar a Hall of Fame player?

Jim Ryan
I certainly think Randy is a Hall of Fame player and I'm very disappointed that he's not in there. I think the guys that I played with would be successful in just about any era. All except me; I could probably never play with this group. Randy Gradishar could play in any era. Tom Jackson? Absolutely. Bob Swenson; I think the same way.

Mike Grothe; Omaha, Neb.
I was wondering about the health of Courtney Brown. Is he healthy enough to make the kind of impact we all know he is capable of making? Does he have a strong work ethic?

Jim Ryan
I don't know him well enough so that's a hard question for me to answer. As far as his health is concerned, I don’t think that we would have gotten a guy that we thought was unhealthy and not ready to contribute this year.  As far as the other aspects of his personality, I don't know him well enough, but I have faith in the guys who do and feel like he can come in and help us so I'm excited about having him here.

James Howard; Houston, Texas
I was in the eighth grade when you guys faced the Browns in that ever so exciting playoff game (The Drive) and I am 31 years of age now. Can you give an explanation of your feelings and emotions during that great game and the final drive that John Elway pulled off that day?

Jim Ryan
For me in my 10 years it was the greatest game I ever played in. There's not too much more to say.  It was a surreal game that seemed like everything was moving in slow motion. I never played in a more emotional game especially at the end with the drive and overtime. As far as football is concerned, there was no better day.

Frank Lower; Marshall, Texas
How can a young man correctly make the determination to leave college and enter the pro ranks?  The media seems to focus on the glamour position players that come out early, QB, CB, WR, RB, etc. How realistic is it for a linebacker to decide to leave early?

Jim Ryan
That's a really tough decision.  My though would probably always be to err on the side of staying in just because that  added experience will probably make you a better player in the long run. I think that studies have shown that guys who have stayed in longer -- even if they get drafted a little bit later -- on average have longer careers.  Then again, if a guy is going to be a first round draft pick and he's physically mature enough to jump into the NFL, I think that's a decision he and his family and the coaching staff in college have to make. It's not an easy one.  I don't think there's any general rule. I think it's on a case-by- case basis.

Todd Boller; North Platte, Neb.
Do you believe one of our players will be at the top of the sack leaders list this year?  Who do you think has the best shot?

Jim Ryan
I think with the guys we have on the line with the new additions, we're going to have a really good pass rush. It may not be that the sacks come like the last two years from Bertrand Berry and Reggie Hayward where one guy got the great majority of them.  I think it's going to be spread out and a lot of guys are going to have a number of sacks this year.

John Quinn; Lakewood, Colo.
Jim, it's nice to see you back with the Broncos.  My question is how does it feel to you?

Jim Ryan
Great.  I'm enjoying this very much. I'm very appreciative to Coach Shanahan for giving me the opportunity and feel very at home. I' m excited about the prospects of helping the Broncos.  Personally it's wonderful.

Jeff Erickson; Portland, Ore.
As part of a great group of linebackers, how do you feel about Karl Mecklenburg\'s exclusion from the Hall of Fame?

Jim Ryan
When you look at Karl and Randy, they're two guys who probably are deserving.  If Randy Gradishar is in there does Karl Mecklenburg deserve to be in there?  That's a hard call.  I certainly would vote for both of them.  I was a roommate of Randy's at the end of his career and then roomed with Karl at the beginning of his career so I know both of these guys pretty well. They need to get in because then I can say I'm the common factor and the reason they're in.

Dusty; Bozeman, Mont.
What do you see as the largest change in the NFL since you retired as a player?

Jim Ryan
Probably the size, speed and athleticism of the players.  Football hasn't changed a whole lot other than schemes and some complexities being different.  I think there's a little bit more complexity and speed, but not much. I think the big different is the size, speed and athleticism of the players and the way that they train too.  It was year-round when I was playing but we didn’t train and do some of the things that guys do now.  Believe it or not I think it's even more competitive among players and teams than it was when I was a player.

Andrew Gowins; Cincinnati, Ohio
What are linebackers doing different today in the game than when you played?

Jim Ryan
Not too much. They have to play the run and they have to play the pass.  If anything, linebackers might be more involved with downfield passing -- covering guys downfield, even in zones -- that type of thing.  If anything, maybe a little bit more of that but other than that it's the same type of play as when I was a player.

Deane Bohar; Simcoe, Ontario, Canada
What values do you hope to teach your players that you learned in your playing days with the Broncos?

Jim Ryan
I'm not going to be necessarily directly involved with players as much as some of the other coaches. I think in this day and age guys have to be precise. Defenses seem to be a little bit more interdependent of each player doing his own job and I think the precision of players carrying out their assignment is really important. Then the value of teamwork and the value of really identifying as part of a team and not necessarily looking for individual accomplishments and glory.

Sam Griffith; New York
With three big receivers, and the addition of a consistent running back, how are you guys going to approach the Raiders now that Norv Turner has got some firepower?

Jim Ryan
I think they have improved themselves as a team.  I think they're going to be a team that's tough to reckon with and hard to defend because they have so many weapons. But I have confidence in our coaching staff and our guys that we'll be able to match up with them and play them tough.  That's why we went out and got some of these new players.  That's why Champ Bailey is here. That's why D.J. (Williams) and Ian Gold are here now; to play against the best in the league like the Raiders and beat them.

Jeromie Moss; Bakersfield, Calif.
Who would you say is a better linebacker: Al Wilson or Karl Mecklenburg in his prime?

Jim Ryan
They both bring specific abilities to the position. Al is a prototypical middle linebacker.  He's a guy who can fill up the run gaps, direct the team, is fast enough to play the pass and run down receivers and then he'll knock the crap out of you. Karl is a little different. He was really, really good in small areas; as quick, as cat-like and as sudden a player as I've ever seen in small areas. He did so many other things he was the complete opposite of Al, not a prototypical linebacker at all.  He started as a defensive lineman, went to linebacker and in pass situations would go back to defensive line. He was all over the place.  There were a couple of games where he played all seven positions in front along the defensive line. It's very difficult to compare the two, but both of them are great.