Mickles: Rob Ryan has Marcus Spears’ seal of approval

Cornerback Tyrann Mathieu talks with Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan during LSU's Pro Day in Baton Rouge on Wednesday, March 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Sean Gardner) Show caption
Cornerback Tyrann Mathieu talks with Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan during LSU's Pro Day in Baton Rouge on Wednesday, March 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Sean Gardner)

We haven’t heard a peep out of Rob Ryan since he was hired by New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton on Feb. 9 to be defensivecoordinator.

Perhaps we won’t for a while.

When approached by a group of reporters hoping to steal a moment following LSU’s Pro Day on Wednesday, Ryan said “training camp” as he headed out.

Ryan does have a lot of work to do.

Fired by the Dallas Cowboys in early January, he faces the task of turning the Saints into a cohesive defense after they set an NFL record by allowing 7,042 yards last season.

The Saints also are transitioning from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, which Ryan is implementing. On top of that, the salary cap-strapped Saints had to sign some players to go with the new defense.

But at least one of his former players, who saw the Saints up close and personal last December, thinks the team has the right man for the job.

Former LSU defensive end Marcus Spears, a Southern Lab graduate who just finished an eight-year stint with the Cowboys, nodded his approval for Payton’s choice after watching the usually talkative Ryan handle workout drills for the linebackers Wednesday.

“Rob and I were like father and son,” said a beaming Spears, who followed Ryan out of Dallas and signed a contract with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.

While he doesn’t know what Ryan might be thinking in regards to defensive personnel, Spears did have two years’ worth of insight into what Saints players and fans can expect this fall.

When asked what he liked most about Ryan, Spears didn’t hesitate.

“Just his personality and the way he believes in guys he coaches,” he said. “I like his approach to the game. … It’s a fun kind of free-playing atmosphere.

“Anytime you have a coach like that, most players respond to it well. He’s able to implement that and still keep the respect level of the players.”

As an older player with some years in the league, Spears said he probably got a little latitude in being able to get closer to Ryan than some of the younger guys.

“There’s a fine line there,” he noted. “When you’ve been in the league this long, you understand where the line is drawn. Obviously, we were there to work. So when we hit the field, we worked.

“But he understands that guys have different personalities, and he knew how to approach us as men, too.”

Spears is among those who believe Ryan shouldn’t have been fired by the Cowboys, but he said organizations have to make tough decisions all the time.

But, he said, the Saints will like Ryan’s style.

“They’re going to realize they have a coach that listens to his players,” Spears said. “He’s energetic and very approachable. If you feel something can be done differently, he takes it into account. You can go to him, and in turn that helps you play better.”