But as he arrived in a stunning trade, everyone wanted to hear from the man acquired to finally fill the glaring hole at the center of the Eagles defense.
Welcome to Philadelphia, DeMeco. All anyone asks is that you play like the impact linebacker the Eagles have lacked since Jeremiah Trotter's prime and become the defensive leader missing since Brian Dawkins left.
If those seem like immense burdens to heap onto a player before he has even practiced with his new team, they are inspired by Ryans' track record. At every stop he has brought a seemingly impossible blend of charisma, character, performance, and intelligence, and combined it all in a smiling package.
Ryans, 27, will be trying to rebound from the two most difficult years of his career, but that has done little to dim the excitement surrounding his arrival. Step right in to your new crucible.
Call him 'Coach'
Meeting expectations has never been a problem for Ryans. Instead, at every stage he has excelled.
Friends and family call him "Meco" (pronounced MEEK-oh), but the Texans, from teammates up to the owner, called him "Cap," for Captain. At Alabama, he went by "Coach."
"When I look back in my 25 years of working with student-athletes," said Alabama's Jon Dever, "I would think that he's the guy that I put at the top of my list."
Dever, the school's associate athletic director for student services, worked with Crimson Tide athletes on their academics and watched Ryans blow the doors off Alabama's business program. He had a 3.5 grade point average and graduated cum laude in just seven semesters with a degree in business management.
Ryans got his nicknames partly for his on-field knowledge and partly for his habit of ordering teammates to keep their locker room clean. Don't throw tape or papers on the floor and leave them for the janitor, he would say, throw it out yourself.
"I believe in just respecting others and just doing right," Ryans said.
"He leads by example," Eagles guard Evan Mathis, a teammate at Alabama, wrote in an e-mail. "On and off the field he is doing and saying things that matter."
When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast days before Ryans began his senior season, he convinced teammates to donate their per diem to the relief effort. With their coach matching the contributions, Ryans reportedly raised between $4,000 and $5,000.
By the end of that season, Ryans was the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year and a finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker. The NCAA named him one of the "Top VIII," an award honoring eight athletes for their combination of athletic, academic, and community-service achievements.
"He was the binding force for the team," Dever said.
Got to hit back
Ryans always has embraced the responsibility of leadership, but he was reluctant to play football.
Growing up in Bessemer, Ala., a city of about 27,500 roughly 14 miles southwest of Birmingham, Ryans loved baseball. Friends played football, but Ryans didn't want to get hit, until in eighth grade a coach convinced him to try.
They started him at center.
"I just remember getting blasted," Ryans said with a laugh. The next year, he asked to play linebacker. "Somebody's hitting you, you've got to stand up and hit back, and I've been doing that ever since," he said.
At the steel plant where his mother helped produce car parts, coworkers told Martha Ryans that the youngest of her four children would make it big. She wasn't sure, and set strict rules about school. Ryans knew better than to come home with a C. He earned a 4.0 GPA.
Comfortable as a leader
For a former catcher, middle linebacker seemed like a perfect fit. Ryans was used to calling the game on defense.
"I don't know where it came from, it's just in me," he said.
He played middle linebacker in high school and college, and within the first five days of Ryans' first NFL training camp, the Texans saw enough to move the rookie to their defensive nerve center.
In his first game, the Texans hosted the Eagles and jumped out to a 7-0 lead on their opening drive. The Eagles began with two Donovan McNabb passes. On their third play, Brian Westbrook ran right. Ryans dropped him for a 2-yard loss, his first professional tackle.
He finished with a game-high 13 stops, 12 solo, but the Texans lost, 24-10.
"Not too memorable," Ryans told the Houston Chronicle. "I hate to lose."
Combining intelligence and athleticism, Ryans kept tackling. Playing on the same team as the No. 1 overall draft pick that year, defensive end Mario Williams, Ryans was the 2006 defensive rookie of the year. (The Texans had picked Ryans with the first selection of the second round.) In his second season, Ryans made the Pro Bowl.
On the field, Ryans was a calming, organizing presence who knew everyone's responsibility. In the locker room, he relayed players' concerns to coaches and coaches' messages to the team.
"Everything he talks, he means. . . . He's never phony," Texans defensive tackle Shaun Cody said. "You have guys who want to be captains and are kind of forced into that role. DeMeco, that's who he is."
In 2009, Ryans made a second Pro Bowl. But just as he solidified his standing as one of the game's bright young linebackers, he faced the biggest challenge of his career.
Playing pass coverage in an Oct. 17, 2010, win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Ryans suffered a ruptured left Achilles tendon. He had taken pride in never missing a start because of injury, even playing the final three games of 2007 with a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. No amount of will could get him through the Achilles tear. His season was over. Teammates were distraught.
How did he handle it?
"Like a baby, like most men are," Martha Ryans said.
"I didn't know what to expect," the 6-foot-1, 247-pound linebacker said. "It was one of the toughest times."
While recovering last summer, Ryans gave $300,000 to endow a scholarship at Alabama's business school and sent truckloads of supplies for tornado relief in his home state. Texans coaches taught him their new 3-4 scheme during a brief opening in the NFL lockout, and he coached his teammates in informal practices when the league went back on hold.
But the defensive change meant a diminished role for Ryans. The new system often dropped him into pass coverage, and he came off the field for more than 40 percent of Houston's defensive snaps in 2011 while fellow inside linebacker Brian Cushing stayed on.
Usually a high-volume tackler, Ryans had just one stop in the season's second game, against Miami. He started against Tennessee in Week 7 but didn't show up on the stat sheet. Ryans' play picked up as the season went on, but the Texans, pressed against the salary cap, deemed him expendable. The trade caught him completely by surprise.
In Philadelphia, Ryans will be back in the 4-3 system in which he excelled, and he'll be counted on to be the three-down playmaker the Eagles admit they needed last year to complement their pass-rushing front four.
Questions about his returning to his old form have been pushed to the background while fans revel in the euphoria of having a two-time Pro Bowler. When Ryans was introduced at a 76ers game the day after the trade, he received a standing ovation.
Hours earlier, at his initial news conference, Ryans, with his tie still tightly knotted, was asked about being a "savior."
"Let's not put the savior on it," he said with a laugh. But he seemed to already understand the circumstances. "I can sense that everyone has been looking for that middle linebacker, and I'm happy to be the guy that they chose."
Even coach Andy Reid, not one to pile added pressure on his players, invoked Dawkins' legendary leadership for comparison. Reid, at the NFL meetings in West Palm Beach, Fla., said Wednesday of Ryans: "You meet him and there's a certain confidence he gives you. 'Hey, listen, I got it under control. We'll be OK.'
"You like that from your quarterback, you like that from your middle linebacker."
"I'm just going to be myself," Ryans said. "When I am, I'm a natural leader. I'm not going to change anything about my approach or how I go about my business."
His approach has left a lasting impression everywhere he has played. In Philadelphia, a fan base familiar with disappointment watches and hopes.
Contact Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari