Las Vegas Raiders Rob Ryan, Senior Defensive Assistant

Las Vegas Raiders senior defensive assistant coach Rob Ryan spoke from the Silver and Black Mandatory Mini-Camp, and as usual the defensive savant was highly entertaining while incredibly is
Las Vegas Raiders Senior Defensive Assistant Rob Ryan
Las Vegas Raiders Senior Defensive Assistant Rob Ryan / Darrell Craig Harris, Sports Illustrated
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HENDERSON0N, Nev.—The Las Vegas Raiders have officially completed their first OTA, and Mandatory Mini-camps of the 2024 season, and all attention is turning to the NFL Training Camp to be held in Costa Mesa, California.

Under the guidance of head coach Antonio Pierce, the Silver and Black have united as a team, from the coaching staff to the players. Their collective optimism and confidence are soaring, and the bar for their performance, if possible, has been set even higher.

Rob Ryan is from an Iconic NFL family and is himself an Icon.  While known as 100% authentic, Ryan, like his brother Rex and his father, the great Buddy Ryan, is not a politician, and when he speaks, it is a must-listen.

You can watch the entire press conference below, and read the transcript:

Senior Defensive Assistant Rob Ryan

Q: Last year, this defense really kind of turned a corner from previous years. Did you kind of see that coming? And what were the core principles that kind of went into that that transformation? Coach Ryan: “Well, I mean, I think it all started with the guys we acquired in the offseason. You know, we added a great middle of our defense with [Marcus] Epps and [Robert] Spillane, and then just being familiar with Patrick and playing to the strengths of our defense. And then the change was tough during the year, but we got better. We were getting better each week and I think by the end, you saw a great defense. I think that's what you're going to see this year. In fact, I know what's what you're going to see this year.”

Q: You’ve been around great defenses your whole life. So, when you look at a Christian Wilkins and a Maxx Crosby, they're old school guys. Would you talk about those two and what they do with Robert Spillane in setting the standard for that defense? Coach Ryan: “Well, I mean, when you talk about Maxx Crosby, you’re talking about the best defensive player in the league, probably in the history that I've ever seen. Now, I've only been around it 30 years, but I mean, he's that good. And then you add Christian Wilkins, who arguably is the best (defensive) tackle in football, I mean, they're going to impact you. But the biggest thing is their work ethic stands out, like they are gym rats to a core. And like you're talking about, like old school players. I mean, they really are. When I had [Warren] Sapp and [Derrick] Burgess, they were sacking the quarterback every other snap. We just weren't scoring much, but they're phenomenal and they do set the tone. And Robert Spillane is another guy that Champ Kelly and those guys identified, went after and got him right in the middle of your defense. Him and Epps, it's a great core. And you're going to see [Malcolm] Koonce just take off like crazy because, if it's me, I think I'm going to put all the protection on the other side. But you know, Koonce is going to wear you out, like he is going to wear you out. So, it's a great group. It's been fun. Guys love each other. They're working hard. They're getting better. Patrick Graham has been in his lab, and it's going to be fun to watch this defense. Whatever people say, good luck.”

Q: You mentioned Marcus Epps a couple of times. How big was he for the development of Tre’von Moehrig as well? Coach Ryan: “Oh, amazing. You know, Tre’von is the most talented safety in football. Now he’s just got to bring it and he's getting better each time. Now he's got a number change. Man is he good now. Sometimes those number changes really change, but Epps has been great for him. Like, how did that Philadelphia defense look without Epps. Oops. When you take a guy like that, a guy who knows the game, slows the game down for everybody, and you take him away from the defense, it's a hard thing. Same thing happened to me in New Orleans when we went from being great to horrible when we lost Malcolm Jenkins. He's that impactful, but Tre’von, sky's the limit for him. We know how talented he is. But Epps is just that guy, that gritty guy, that gym rat that makes everybody better.”

Q: You mentioned Malcolm Koonce, but there's also another young defensive end in Tyree Wilson who had some injury issues last year that kind of held him back. What are your impressions of him moving now into year two? Coach Ryan: “I'll tell you what, all I see, I look out there and I see him and Andre Carter all the time. He's been working hard. He's learning Andre’s old pass rush moves. And so, he's going to be a weapon as well. And he's got a great work ethic. And people don't realize that the kid is so smart. You know, that's another good quality to have along with those long vines that he's got. The game will slow down for him. His first year, sometimes you come in like a house fire, but sometimes it develops. Most of the time it takes a while for a young man to develop. And I think we’ll see a lot of growth this year with him. He's a great kid. He works hard. He loves football. So, we got the right guy.”

Q: What is it specifically that you've seen in terms of that development from Malcolm Koonce this offseason? Coach Ryan: “Koonce has always been super talented, like he really is. And he's a great kid. If you brought him in here, you might think he's asleep because that's just kind of the way he looks. But oh my god, can he bring it. Like he is such an athlete, he can turn the corner. I mean, he can do so many things. And he's been special and to have Maxx as a tutor for him. And he needed some leadership like that. My first year when I was coaching him, I couldn't dip the corner that well so he kind of waited, but now we got this Robbie Leonard. This D-line coach is special. He's special. This guy is fantastic. He has rapport with these players and he's also smart enough to let our players lead, which is Maxx. Maxx makes everybody tougher. Maxx makes everybody better. Maxx makes everybody get tattoos. I mean, he's just a badass. But Malcolm is something special, man. Wait until you see. I mean, ‘Oh, they got this guy and this guy, and he said, my chip on my shoulder.’ I don't care what you say. Good luck. Good luck handling our people. Good luck.”

Q: Did you get a tattoo? Coach Ryan: “Yeah. It's been a while ago though. And this thing here is like, I need to change the narrative man. I was out of football and I’m like I’m a fish out of water. And my son, who is a male model up in London, said, ‘Dad you need get this. Get an evil eye tattoo. And I’m like, really? So, me and my wife went out and got evil eye tattoos. Next thing I know, I get a job. It's unbelievable. That’s a true story, but my son's like, ‘Dad, show me it.’ So, I showed it to him. ‘You didn't get the eyelashes, did you?’ Eyelashes? Oh, no. Apparently, I did. So, there you go. But they work if you need a job.”

Q: You reference Patrick Graham, who is a man that almost got the Seahawks job. He's very respected around the league. What makes him an elite coach? Coach Ryan: “Oh, man. I mean, first of all, the guy is as smart as any. I mean, he's from Yale, I guess they don't give the graduation diploma away to anybody at Yale, but he's smarter than any guy. The thing he identifies, he knows his personnel. Once he identifies the personnel, look out. He's going to tailor his defense for that. But he's also a people person and he’s kind of a different duck other than me, like we're kind of opposite. But I love him. And he's going to be an unbelievable head coach in this league. I mean, the simple fact is we stole the best one in AP [Antonio Pierce], period. But this guy here is number two. And when he gets his chance, he is going to make it happen because he has a way of making people better, but he also has a way of mentally tailoring down such a complicated scheme and making it simple. He's one of those guys, like a big brain guy that actually knows how to use it and communicate with the toughest of the tough.”

Q: You mentioned Rob Leonard and I see him out there at practice challenging those defensive linemen. Can you just kind of elaborate on how much he pushes those guys and what he brings to that defensive line room as a coach? Coach Ryan: “Well, Robbie Leonard, he's not the biggest cat in the world, but he thinks he's big. He is a technician. Like, this guy is a technician. He preaches technique, he believes in it, and he makes these guys better. Like, when you give him a raw piece of clay and then he molds them into professional football players. Look, he's worked with John Jenkins, ‘Oh, John Jenkins had a meteoric rise.’ No, John Jenkins was great when he was a rookie for me in New Orleans. But this guy helped him. He had John Jenkins, he had Christian Wilkins and Adam Butler, who's fantastic. So, he developed all those guys too when they were young. And he's a great teacher. But he's also a skinny guy who doesn't know how skinny he is. But he thinks he's bigger than those guys. He loves teaching, he works hard. And then you put Andre Carter in that room. My god, that's a good room.”

Q: It looks like guys like Jack Jones and Nate Hobbs could have fit in any system? Coach Ryan: “Yeah. And they are beautiful people now, they are something else. Like sometimes you get some guys that are a little touched, but I tell you what, they can play. They can play and you can throw that ball out there against Jack if you want to, but look out, because half the time he'll bring it back against you. And [Nate] Hobbs, like his trading card – I don’t know if you guys collect cards – but his training card I don't know what position it says because he plays everywhere. And he’s smart, he's tough. He's dependable and has courage. I love those guys that will hit an offensive tackle 200 pounds bigger, whip his tail, and come off and make the tackle. It's like, nobody tell him you're not supposed to do that. Like, this guy is fantastic. So, any system, any team would be lucky to have him for sure.”

Q: Did you always want to come back to the Raiders and what did it mean for you when you got back here a couple years ago? Coach Ryan: “It’s the best thing, best organization. And like I already talked about; it’s got the best head coach, but it's got the best owner. And the Raiders, I love this franchise. And God knows I've been on 10 of them, so I should know. This is my favorite franchise, was when I worked with great Al Davis. I was there five years with four head coaches. The reason why he kept me, well, I was great. This place is special. And when you see the whole stadium out there, now we got a home field that believes in us, you got a whole stadium yelling for AP, AP. That was the coolest thing ever and now you see guys lined up to probably go buy an Aidan O'Connell jersey, but I'm sure they're sold out. It's a great organization. I love it. This is where I'm going to work the rest of my career, which hopefully will span for another…I want to beat my dad's record for longevity. I won't be the best Ryan by any stretch. But I do want to coach longer than all of them did, so that'd be good. And now Rex has got a kid in coaching. I got one who I'm going to break into this building one of these days in a couple years. And he'll probably be better than me, it won't be much, but he'll be better. I love it. I love the people; I love everything about this place. Uniforms are the sweetest in the league. They like a guy with long hair. I mean, it's a great place for me.”

Q: What is it about AP that you are so much a believer in him? Coach Ryan: “Because he's real. Like, he's real. Now this is the genuine article, he’s straight out of Compton, literally, so he's a complete badass and he’s just great people. But he wants our players and our coaches to be themselves, so that's what's great. Like, he's not changing. You are who you are, like little Jack's Jack, Maxx is Maxx, but he wants you to be yourself and bring them all together and create a culture that is awesome to see and be a part of, and I've been through a lot of them, but I just absolutely love what he's doing. He's a star, and then he's got a son that’s going to be brilliant. Right now, he's on offense. I'm sure he'll be switching to defense because that's where he probably belongs, but he's special. You see him. He's real. Like, oh it’s coach talk. He ain't boring nobody. He is going to be himself and he’s going to make us winners.”

Q: You mentioned you had John Jenkins as a rookie. Could you see even all those years ago that he's a guy that could have thistype of longevity he's ended up having in the league? And how cool isit to kind of see a guy's whole career progress and kind of come full circle? Coach Ryan: “It's awesome. I mean, first of all, I was an integral part of drafting him in the third round, we stole him in Georgia. But he was a brilliant guy. And people don't realize, this kid was an all-state fullback and basketball player. He may not look that way. But maybe it was like that kid playing in basketball last year, that big, huge guy that was kicking butt. Well, Jenkins must of have been doing that. He's a great athlete and he's sneaky athletic. You can see the knee bend and all that, so you could project the longevity of a guy like this because he's always been a great worker. And he's also always been a great teammate. Like, when Jenkins came in this building last year, he brought that D-line togetherlike it's never been together. And they hang together, they believe in each other, and it makes it special. And to see him finally get recognized as a great player is really cool.”

Q: From the time that you first stepped into this role to now, what would you say is the biggest overall improvement you've noticed within the defensive mentality or on field work or anything ofthat nature? Coach Ryan: “That's a great question because there's so many things, like you can see this defense ascending. You know, it starts with Patrick Graham and his leadership, because he's grown too. He's been tremendous. But the communication of our players and the leadership of the guys, you know, some of your guys just need to get a call. They don't have to make them. But those guys who have got to make the calls, they got to get the whole defense on track. And we have some outstanding guys doing that and it's helping our defense. And we know the best is yet to come. You saw it at the end of the year when we were number one in the league when AP took over. There was a different mindset. He's like PG, let it rip. There was no caution to the wind, and it made everybody better. And we were number one in the league in scoring defense and that wasn’t by fluke and wait until you see us this year.”

Q: You mentioned Marcus Epps in Philadelphia, he played the most snaps on that defense when they went to the Super Bowl. It's like you never take them off the field. I'm just curious what is it about him that compels you guys to always keep him on the field? Coach Ryan: “Well, I mean, off the field he's just one of them cerebral cats now. He's very smart. He played at Wyoming; I think they got a barn named after him over there. But the thing on the field now, he's one of our loud guys. You know, he speaks up, he runs the whole show back there and Spillane echoes it, and the communication is night and day difference. And he and Tre’von have really put a bond in there and watch out for this Isaiah [Pola-Mao]. He's come on and you can play him anywhere, so it's really special. But believe me Epps is so much better than people think, like, well, he had no interceptions. Yeah, okay. I guess he never had any impact on our defense. Look again and then you want to see how much he's missed? We’ll you take him away from a defense and see how that defense went. I mean, they are busting assignments all over the place. You know, they blamed eight coordinators they had during the year, but simple fact is when you take a great player out of the middle of your defense, it hurts. Same thing happened to me. I mean, you make a mistake and lose a great player like that, that hurts your defense.”

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Hondo Carpenter


Hondo S. Carpenter Sr. is an award-winning sports journalist who brings decades of experience to his role as editor and publisher, and beat writer for our Las Vegas Raiders and the NFL coverage. Carpenter is a member of the PFWA, FWAA, and USBWA.