Eagles' Ryans ready to tackle 4-3 or 3-4

ALEJANDROALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER DeMeco Ryans says he doesn't mind switching to a 3-4 scheme if that's what Chip Kelly wants.
ALEJANDROALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER DeMeco Ryans says he doesn't mind switching to a 3-4 scheme if that's what Chip Kelly wants.
Posted: April 05, 2013

HE CAME HERE to be the glue, to pull together a disjointed defense that had underperformed the year before because of a perceived softness and a lack of leadership. Of the muted criticisms aimed at DeMeco Ryans from time to time, softness or lack of leadership were never among them. He was tough, he could tackle, and he wasn't afraid to talk.

None of that, as it turned out, was enough to save the Philadelphia Eagles' defense from itself last season. Whether it was early under the big-play susceptible schemes of Juan Castillo, or later under the more erratic tenure of Todd Bowles, Ryans' hopeful midweek messages to his team and fans began to sound more and more like the rantings of Monty Python's "Black Knight" as November became December, still uttering bravado even when no limbs remained.

"There were a lot of moving parts on the defense, as you all know," he was saying Thursday at the NovaCare Complex. "And definitely a lot of changes going on week in and week out. But from our standpoint as players, we just try to go out and do what the coaches ask us. Just trying to learn different things. Last year we had to learn different things each week."

They will have to do that again in the early weeks of camp this summer under yet another new defensive coordinator, under a new head coach, with a change of scheme with which Ryans is all too familiar.

From the moment Wade Phillips arrived as the Houston Texans' defensive coordinator in 2011, the clock for Ryans began to tick. It didn't help that he was coming back from a torn Achilles', but the switch to a 3-4 defense took him off the field for most third downs in favor of Brian Cushing, and made him and the $6.6 million salary he had earned as a two-time Pro Bowl, every-down middle linebacker in previous years, expendable.

Playing a 4-3, the Eagles saw him as a perfect fit to solve one of their recurring conundrums, middle linebacker. Ryans was also considered to be a leader, and man, he tried. The doors would open every Wednesday and there he would be, week after week, talking about the previous Sunday's mistakes, talking about refocus and about pride. It wasn't just talk, either.

"He really plays the game the way you want it to be played," new Eagles coach Chip Kelly has said. "From listening to the people in the building, there's a quality about him that you want to be around him."

So much so that he was kept around amid a purge that has sent a majority of last year's starters elsewhere. So much so that he was kept even amid the murmurs that Kelly preferred the 3-4. Kelly has been nebulous on that subject to say the least, and hiring Billy Davis as his defensive coordinator only clouded things more. As Cleveland's linebackers coach, Davis worked under a 4-3 in the previous two seasons, and answered questions about his intentions this way when he was introduced here in February.

"Everybody wants to know: Is it a 3-4 or is it a 4-3?" he said then. "I wouldn't be a very good coach if I just said, 'It's a 3-4.' It's who we have and what we can do with that. And if it's a 3-4, then it will be. If not, then it won't be."

Ryans claims to not care. He also disputes the idea he can't play in a 3-4, noting that when he came off the field on third downs that final season in Houston it was because there was only one linebacker (Cushing) out there.

"It was a big perception that DeMeco doesn't ft the 3-4, 4-3, whatever," Ryans said. "I played in that defense, in the Texans' 3-4 defense when we were the No. 1, No. 2 defense in the league. So if I didn't fit in there, then we wouldn't have been that highly ranked. It's all about being versatile . . . Whatever it is this coaching staff is looking for me to do, I'm willing to do that. I've done both, so I'm open to whatever it is."

There's one thing, for starters. They're looking for him to pry more balls loose. He is, too. The Eagles' defense created just 13 turnovers last season, and for all his tackling prowess and amid an otherwise solid season, Ryans was too often, like the Black Knight, putting a brave front on a desperate situation.

Thursday, though, he sounded like a whole man again, buoyed by a new coach and a new start.

"Change is good," he said. "Change can be definitely good. As we are now . . . I think we're headed in a good direction."


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: philly.com/

SamDonnellon

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