Eagles workhorse Ryans is back for more

DeMeco Ryans. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
DeMeco Ryans. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 29, 2014

DeMeco Ryans will turn 30 in July, and he is coming off a season in which he played more regular-season snaps than any defensive player in the NFL. After enduring questions last spring about whether he could be a three-down linebacker in the Eagles' 3-4 defense, Ryans now entertains questions about whether he's on the field too much.

Ryans played 1,157 snaps last season - 96 percent of the Eagles' defensive plays. Pro Football Focus, which includes penalties and kneel-downs, determined that he played more snaps than any defensive player in the NFL. But Ryans said he feels healthy and is not going to volunteer to take breathers in 2014.

"They'll have to yank me off the field," Ryans said at the beginning of the team's offseason program.

The Eagles started their first of three weeks of organized team activities on Tuesday. They also have a mandatory minicamp June 17-19. Although there is competition for some starting spots, Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are entrenched at inside linebacker.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly says the defense relies on matchups and substitutions, but offseason moves indicate that the team is pleased with its current inside linebackers. The Eagles did not sign or draft anyone at the position, so any depth will need to come from returning players.

"You'd like to develop depth behind those guys so they're not playing every snap, but you're still going to play your best players," Kelly said in March. "You have to make decisions. . . . Putting someone else in, is it just to get [Ryans] out of the game, or is that a matchup for us? But that's a priority for us, developing depth behind those guys."

Kelly welcomes Najee Goode for a full offseason. Goode was the team's top reserve at inside linebacker last season after joining the team following the preseason. Emmanuel Acho and Jake Knott also return. Jason Phillips is back on the field after missing all of 2013 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and Casey Matthews also can play inside linebacker.

The Eagles clearly value Ryans, who is set to make a base salary of $6.8 million in each of the next two seasons. They acquired Ryans from Houston in 2012 when there were concerns about his fit in a 3-4 defense and his recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Both concerns have been alleviated.

His 2013 performance was the closest Ryans has been to his early-career Pro Bowl form - he finished with four sacks and two interceptions to go along with 127 tackles - and he has not missed a game since arriving in Philadelphia. Ryans said he feels no nagging injuries, either, even as he approaches 30.

"When I think about the age, I think about the way we do things here, the sports science, it really helps me out," Ryans said.

The high number of snaps in a typical Eagles game skews their defensive statistics higher. Ryans focuses less on the Eagles' allowing 394 yards per game, fourth-highest of any NFL defense, and more on their allowing 23.9 points per game, which is in the middle of the pack.

When the Eagles went on a five-game winning streak that turned their season around, they did not allow more than 21 points per game.

Ryans said the Eagles should aim to keep opposing offenses below 17 points this season.

"I feel like we're close," Ryans said. "Go back and watch the film: It's kind of silly mistakes we made that gave up touchdowns. If we go back and correct those things and we play solid, together as a defensive unit, I feel like we can really knock our scoring defense down."


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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