Ryan grew up a fan of the Buffalo Bills.
"When I grew up," Ryan said, "the Cowboys weren't a team I hoped to play for."
But ever since the Cowboys plucked the 6-foot-5-inch, 266-pound tight end from Boston College in the fifth round of last weekend's NFL Draft, there is a group of Buffalo, N.Y. residents -- Ryan's family and friends -- who suddenly find their allegiance switched to support of the team that beat the Bills in Super Bowl XXVII and Super Bowl XXVIII.
"I always dreamed of being a Buffalo Bill," Ryan said. "That's normal -- everyone dreams of playing for their hometown team. But as I got older, I realized that I wanted a chance to play professional football. I'm thrilled to be here."
New quarterback Drew Henson has joined a well-documented lineage of pedigree signal-callers in Dallas, but Ryan also is joining the team at a position steeped in tradition, having featured such past stars as Billy Joe DuPree and Jay Novacek. But Ryan presents a different image from DuPree and Novacek, who were known largely as receiving threats.
|"My major strength is probably my blocking ability," Ryan said. "They (the Dallas coaches) have been telling me to watch Dan Campbell, because he's a great blocker.|
The notion of having Ryan serve as an offensive lineman is not as far-fetched as it might sound.
"They threw the ball to me -- I had 17 catches my sophomore year, then 32 my junior year and 35 in my senior year, but we ran the ball a lot at BC," Ryan said. "There were a lot of times when I acted like a sixth offensive lineman. We've had six straight 1,000-yard running backs there, and that's a source of real pride up there."
For all of his talents, Ryan -- considered by many to be the best blocking tight end in this year's Draft -- enters the fray at a position at which the Cowboys have talent and depth. Jason Witten has entrenched himself as the starting tight end. Campbell is largely an extra blocker, while James Whalen joins Witten as the primary receiving threats.
Projected by some teams to move inside to play guard or tackle in the NFL, Ryan initially will make his mark as a blocker, but said he wants to improve his receiving ability to become a more well-rounded tight end.
"I'm pretty big, but I need to get stronger," he said. "But what I know I really need to work on is getting quicker. I run decent routes, but I've got to be quicker, come out of my breaks better. On the preparation side, I've got to learn to read things quicker. The weight program at BC was pretty intense, and we did a lot of the same things we do here -- a lot of clean and jerks, a lot of power lifts. I'll still lift here, but I'm going to work hard on my quickness."
One of the subtle differences Ryan found during his three days at Valley Ranch was in the appearance of the ball while in flight.
"The NFL ball is different from the college ball, and that makes it a little different as a receiver," he said. "The college ball has the white stripe on each end, and that helps you focus on it and judge it on the way into your hands. The NFL ball doesn't have the stripe, but I'm getting used to it."