Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans says he can play effectively in the 3-4

"It's notas big a difference as people make it seem," DeMeco Ryans said of the expected change in the defense. ALEJANDRO A.ALVAREZ / Staff
"It's notas big a difference as people make it seem," DeMeco Ryans said of the expected change in the defense. ALEJANDRO A.ALVAREZ / Staff
Posted: April 06, 2013

One year ago, when the Eagles acquired DeMeco Ryans, the narrative from the first day was that Ryans fit better in the Eagles' 4-3 defensive scheme than the 3-4 defense the linebacker played in with the Houston Texans.

One year later, the Eagles must change that narrative. Former coach Andy Reid, who cited Ryans' fit in the 4-3, was fired. Chip Kelly arrives with a new defensive scheme that will likely include elements of the 3-4.

Ryans appears be one of the players hurt by the coaching change, and the Eagles are due to pay $6.6 million to a defender who might not be as effective - or on the field - as much as he was last season.

"It's a big perception that DeMeco doesn't fit in the 3-4," Ryans said Thursday at the NovaCare Complex. "I played with the Texans in the 3-4 defense when we were the [No. 2] defense in the league. If I didn't fit in there, we wouldn't have been that highly ranked. It's all about being versatile."

What's indisputable is that Ryans was a vital part of the Eagles defense in 2012. He was on the field for 99.7 percent of the team's defensive snaps - all but three all season.

Yet in 2011, in the Texans' 3-4 scheme, he did not play on many passing downs. Ryans played in only 58.4 percent of Houston's defensive snaps that season. When asked about the decrease Thursday, he cited the formation the Texans used in pass coverage. They played with only one linebacker, and that was all-pro Brian Cushing.

So, based on those numbers, his decline in production in 2011 was more about playing time than scheme. And there was an arguably superior linebacker to play in those passing situations. That made Ryans - and his hefty salary - expendable.

This is a logical explanation, and Ryans showed last season that he is a capable all-down linebacker. Ryans led the Eagles with 148 tackles, and his 16 tackles for losses were the most of any player in Reid's 14 years in Philadelphia. He said he had an "OK" season, one that "wasn't good enough" and could have included more "impact plays."

He'll need to make those plays in a new defense in 2013.

"It wasn't much difference," Ryans said of playing in the 3-4. "I think a lot of people try to make it different, but it's not as big a difference as people make it seem. You still have your run fits. You still have certain coverages. You can only run so many coverages as a defense. So those coverages don't change whether you're in a 4-3 or 3-4."

It is unknown how the defense will look under new coordinator Bill Davis and how Ryans fits. The Eagles also have Mychal Kendricks as a potential linebacker in pass coverage.

But Ryans' $6.6 million is the third-highest base salary on the team. He's also a respected leader in the locker room and a needed veteran voice. Whether he can still be an effective player in the new defense, though, remains to be seen.

"4-3, 3-4, whatever it is this coaching staff is looking for me to do, I'm willing to do it," Ryans said. "And I've done both. So I'm open to whatever it is."

Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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