A Closer Look at DeMeco Ryans

A Closer Look at DeMeco Ryans

By now you've heard that last night, the Eagles and Texans agreed to a
deal that will see linebacker DeMeco Ryans in Midnight Green so long as
he passes a physical. However, because Ryans is under contract and
consequently wasn't among the top names being covered in "What Will the
Eagles Do at Linebacker" stories for the past month, and he's played in
the AFC South for his entire career, many Philadelphians won't know much
about him. 

So who is DeMeco Ryans, why was he suddenly available, and where does he fit into the Eagles defense?

A second-round draft pick out of Alabama, Ryans became the middle linebacker for the Houston Texans as a rookie in 2006. He earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and was voted to a pair of Pro Bowls over the first four years of his NFL career. Then, in 2010, Ryans ruptured his Achilles tendon. He missed the final 10 games of the season, and for the first time ever, serious injury cast doubt on his future.

Once the lockout ended, Ryans rejoined the team in 2011, but the Texans defense was not the way he left it. Wade Phillips had been appointed defensive coordinator, and along with Stay Puft came his signature 3-4 scheme. Despite starting 16 games for the fifth time in six seasons, DeMeco's numbers dipped dramatically in 2011. He registered roughly half the number of tackles he averaged in years past, and, statistically speaking, appeared to be a non-factor overall.

Based on limited information, one might conclude Ryans wasn't a fit in Phillips's version of the 3-4. At worst, the assumption will be Ryans never fully recovered from injury.

Sure, DeMeco Ryans started all 16 games in 2011. What that doesn't tell you is he only participated in 58% of Houston's defensive snaps last season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Ryans was a three-down linebacker prior to 2011, appearing in 99% of the club's defensive plays in '08 and '09. He was solid, both while defending the run, and in coverage. He never came off the field.

There is some concern that guy is not the player who the Eagles acquired in their trade with the Texans. To be fair, that might be true. Ryans may never be quite the player he was when he entered the league six years ago. Time takes its toll in the NFL, and an Achilles injury is of particular concern, even in this day and age. Just ask Ryan Howard.

The indication from John McClain -- he of the Houston Chronicle, not the Nakatomi Plaza -- is Ryans was utilized as a "one-down inside player" in Phillips's 3-4. That seems to mesh with PFF's snap count, though it doesn't exactly answer, 'why was his playing time reduced so drastically?'

McClain, and others, maintain Ryans's skillset was "wasted" as a weakside interior linebacker in the new Texans defense. Only one interior linebacker is used in certain passing sets, and Ryans gave way to Brian Cushing in the dime. Cushing, meanwhile, earned a second-team All-Pro nod for his strong play last season.

Long story short, there wasn't necessarily a quality issue there. Houston's motivation to part with Ryans was based on the bottom line. Ryans will earn nearly $6 million in 2012. That's way too much for a part-time player, but becomes a lot easier to swallow when he's your starting middle linebacker.

The Inquirer's Jeff McLane believes the Eagles see Ryans for what he was before the injury, an every-down player. That's great news if true, but there are also reservations that he's lost a step since the Achilles.

It's a risk the Eagles are prepared to take. Their problems at linebacker are well documented, and with Stephen Tulloch re-signed in Detroit, there does not appear to be a better player available in free agency. Curtis Lofton, arguably the best remaining option, doesn't have near the accolades Ryans does, and many believe he's merely a two-down player who will wind up grossly overpaid.

Ryans also comes with less overall risk than the rest of the free agent marketplace. While he is signed through 2015, his salary is not guaranteed. If things don't work out, he's gone, a one-year rental. If he excels, chances are both sides will want to restructure next spring.

When you consider all the Eagles really gave up in the deal was a fourth-round pick, which they've used to uncover such gems as Casey Matthews and Keenan Clayton in recent years, they really didn't lose much of anything at all.

And just for the record, this trade does not preclude the Eagles from drafting another linebacker within the first few rounds this April. The defense still lacks a presence on the strongside in particular, and the diminutive Brian Rolle doesn't have everybody convinced on the opposite end.

Yet for the first time in awhile, there is reason to feel somewhat at ease about their linebacker situation. This doesn't feel like trading for Ernie Sims, an athletic freak with no football IQ; or Takeo Spikes, a journeyman veteran treading water in the NFL; or Will Witherspoon, a desperation, mid-season move, fit be damned.

If DeMeco Ryans is three-quarters the player he was two years ago, he's at least a huge upgrade on the Eagles. At best, he's a Pro-Bowl MIKE in the NFC. I look forward to finding out.

Joel Embiid is the Joel Embiid of trash talking

Joel Embiid is the Joel Embiid of trash talking

Joel Embiid was back in the gym on Wednesday afternoon after enjoying his All-Star break down in New Orleans and appears like he's ready to get back out on the court this weekend.

“I hope that they’re going let me play,” Embiid said after practice on Wednesday. “I feel great. I want to play. If it was my decision, I’d be playing.”

The team doctor's aren't so sure. Joel is currently listed as doubtful for both of the Sixers games this weekend.

But that didn't stop JoJo from talking some smack with one of his favorite teammates, Dario Saric, while battling in a little one-on-one after practice.

Embiid was seen by reporters using some colorful language directed in Saric's direction, screaming "you can't ****-ing guard me!" while the two went at it.

The chatter didn't stop there. Embiid was later asked about the one-on-one and unleashed a little more on Dario.

"He don't like playing me," Embiid said. "He never wins and he doesn't handle me talking trash to him. I would love to play against him all the time because that gives me a lot of confidence beating him every day."

"It's fun playing against him. We both like to compete."

"That's my guy," he added.

And Sixers fans love them both. Let's just hope to see more of them teaming up in actual games soon.

Sixers look forward to results of Ben Simmons' CT scan Thursday

Sixers look forward to results of Ben Simmons' CT scan Thursday

CAMDEN, N.J. — Thursday is significant for the Sixers beyond the trade deadline. It is also the day of Ben Simmons' CT scan to evaluate how his right foot is healing.

"I feel like tomorrow at some point we're all going to be able to lay out a more genuine plan for him," Brett Brown said Wednesday. "I feel like we're going to be good to go with some greater news and a more advanced detail of his plans after this scan."

Once all parties involved assess the results, the team will provide an update, which may not be Thursday. Simmons has been sidelined all season after suffering a Jones fracture during the final scrimmage of training camp. 

On Wednesday, he went through his individual workout plan, which included five-on-none scripting with teammates.

"He's still getting a feel for all of us," Nerlens Noel said. "He's learning to throw it up to me, bounce pass to whoever. It's learning certain tendencies that'll make you start to feel more a part of the team."

The Sixers have not placed a timetable on Simmons' return. The first overall pick has not been cleared for full contact five-on-five practice, the next step in his recovery. Prior to the All-Star break, Brown said he expects Simmons will play at some point this season. He stands by that projection with 26 games remaining. 

"I personally would like to see him play this season. I don't backpedal from that," Brown said. "I think my comments are really very much influenced by his reciprocal desire to play this year, which we all respect. Everybody's got clandestine conspiracy theories on why he might not want to play. I know in my heart and speaking to him, he wants to get on a court and play basketball again.

"I hope he can do that, too. If for some reason he can't, we'll deal with it. But I think it would help him to play NBA basketball and get his competitive juices going again if the doctors point us in that direction."

Simmons' teammates are ready to welcome him into the mix when he is given the green light. Their limited glimpses into his talent have them eager for his debut.

"Unlimited potential," Noel said. "I think with Ben, the thing that makes him so special is his IQ for the game, a sixth sense on the court. Him being able to find little things that not very many 6-10 guys can find. I think that's going to propel his game and make him a special player in this league." 

Added Joel Embiid: "I'm excited ... I thought he was our best player in training camp."