Ryans, 29, is not especially boastful. His claim echoes what has been said elsewhere in the organization, from the locker room to the coaching staff to the front office. Ryans ranks fourth in the NFL with 89 tackles and is second in solo tackles with 71. He also has two sacks and two interceptions, and is a major reason that the Eagles have held opponents to an average 16.25 points in the last four games.
"DeMeco is the leader of our defense and he's having an outstanding Pro Bowl year and we couldn't be happier with everything DeMeco is doing for us," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Between tackle to tackle, he is a force."
Outside linebacker Connor Barwin played with Ryans in Houston during Ryans' last Pro Bowl season and agreed that the veteran has returned to his pre-injury level.
"If not even better," Barwin said.
Ryans was a leader in the Texans locker room. After returning from the injury, he played second fiddle to Brian Cushing in the Texans' new 3-4 defense in 2011. He was not believed to be an ideal fit for their scheme - the Eagles even said Ryans was better for a 4-3 defense when they acquired him.
When the Texans traded him, "everybody was shocked, everybody questioned it, and nobody really understood it," Barwin said.
Not all the 3-4 defenses are built the same, and Ryans said the gaps are different in Philadelphia's system from those in his final year in Houston. Ryans came off the field on many passing downs in that season, but he has been a three-down linebacker in Philadelphia. Ryans plays 96 percent of the snaps.
"You get the same DeMeco every game," Barwin said. "He's on the field every snap. All 80 snaps. He gets us in the right play. And he just does his job, and he has a knack for getting the ball."
Davis gives his defensive leader the leeway to change many of the calls. There are some calls that the defense must play regardless, and it's Ryans' job to set the formation on the field and ensure that his teammates are in the correct position. At other times Davis gives Ryans two defensive calls, and the linebacker can choose which to use depending on the way the offense lines up.
The staff's trust in Ryans has increased as the season has progressed. He has more freedom now than when the Eagles opened against Washington. Once the play is called, Davis said, Ryans has excelled at knocking receivers off passing routes or tackling on the inside running game.
Washington linebacker London Fletcher, who is in his 16th NFL season, watches other inside linebackers and said he has always thought highly of Ryans. But he observed a specific improvement this season.
"If you look at the way he played last year and the way he's played this year, I think he's been a difference-maker, a playmaker for them on defense," Fletcher said. "Guys who really understand the position, a lot of times it's really not about stats. But he's played really good football for the Eagles."
Ryans is owed $6.8 million next season at age 30, so he must keep excelling to justify his spot on the Eagles. But the questions about whether he could play a 3-4 defense are behind him.
"I never had any doubts," Ryans said. "I knew I still had work to put in to get back to where I wanted to be, but I never had a doubt in my mind that I couldn't get back to this level."
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks (knee), tackle Jason Peters (quadriceps), safety Earl Wolff (knee), and linebacker Jake Knott (hamstring) missed Wednesday's practice. Coach Chip Kelly called Kendricks and Peters day-to-day. Quarterback Michael Vick (hamstring), tight end Brent Celek (hip), and cornerback Bradley Fletcher (pectoral) were all limited. . . . Najee Goode was fined $10,000 for a high hit on Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien.