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Defense still trying to develop

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rob Ryan's defense will get another chance to work out the kinks when the Dallas Cowboys play their second preseason game Sunday night against the San Diego Chargers at Cowboys Stadium.

The Cowboys' first-team defense surrendered just a field goal to the Denver Broncos in the preseason opener, but there were clearly still issues to be addressed.

There were gains of 4, 6, 5, 12 and 7 yards on the ground. There was a 29-yard pass completion with safety Gerald Sensabaugh trailing the play. And that was just in the first series.

Overall, the Cowboys' defense struggled with communication. They were flagged for having 12 men on the field, something that had already happened in the first scrimmage of training camp.

"Communication, which we've improved much better this week [in practice]," Ryan said of what the defense needs to work on. "It's another week of growth, and I know we'll do better at that."

Denver's Tim Tebow completed 6 of 7 passes for 91 yards and Brady Quinn misfired on only six passes, completing eight for 120 yards.

The Cowboys managed just one sack -- on Tebow -- but were credited with four quarterback hurries and four pass breakups.

The defense will have a different look against the Chargers. Out is Igor Olshansky at defensive end and in is newly signed free agent Kenyon Coleman. Jason Hatcher, a backup defensive end who had four tackles and one quarterback hurry last week, probably won't play because of a toe injury. It means the rising Sean Lissemore will get some time at defensive end in the sub packages.

Ryan knows it's going to take some time for his defense to develop, despite keeping nine of 11 players from last season's starting squad on the first team.

Alan Ball, who was the starting free safety in 2010, has moved to corner and is starting opposite Orlando Scandrick with Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins out with injuries. Ryan and Jason Garrett have praised Ball's ball skills, and Scandrick has played well the entire camp.

Even with the shuffling, Ryan is confident the defense will improve.

"It will happen," he said. "It's a work in progress and we'll keep grinding and we'll get there."

We all know how bad the Cowboys' defense was last season, finishing 31st in the NFL and giving up a franchise record in points.

But Ryan is the man designated to fix it. He added two of his old players in Abram Elam at strong safety and Coleman. He's moving outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer around the line of scrimmage to seek mismatches. He's mixing and matching his defensive linemen with numerous linebackers and is excited about Sean Lee's ability to make plays in the absence of an injured Keith Brooking.

Still, the Cowboys' defense has young players at corner with Jenkins and Newman out. Bryan McCann and rookie Josh Thomas have had their moments, but the coaches are still looking for more.

"It's another chance for an audition," Elam said. "It's another chance for us to come together and compete, and I think we'll [be] taking advantage of the opportunities that we have. And the defense is playing pretty good right now and we'll continue to grow together."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.