Ryans quieting doubters while leading Eagles' D

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Ryans quieting doubters while leading Eagles' D

How will Billy Davis adjust to Redskins?

November 15, 2013, 9:00 am
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DeMeco Ryans is the first Eagles linebacker with two interceptions and two sacks in a season since Jeremiah Trotter in 2001. (AP)

Remember how DeMeco Ryans was supposedly another Eagles linebacker bust?
 
Remember how one NFL Network analyst even said the Eagles should cut Ryans following a lackluster performance in a preseason game in Pittsburgh?
 
Remember all the talk about how he just wasn’t the same player after his torn Achilles late in the 2010 season?
 
Remember all that?
 
See ya at the Pro Bowl.
 
Ryans is shutting up a lot of people these days.
 
Everybody who said his best days were far behind him. Everybody who said he couldn’t play in a 3-4, and that’s why the Texans got rid of him. Everybody who threw him on the failed Eagles’ inside linebacker heap along with Mark Simoneau, Joe Mays, Omar Gaither, Moise Fokou and countless others.

Because right now, Ryans is giving the Eagles their best linebacker play since Jeremiah Trotter was in his prime.

He’s been that good.
 
“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,” Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said.
 
“I cannot overstate what DeMeco means to this defense and the way he’s leading the group. … We couldn’t be happier with DeMeco.”
 
The Eagles have been trying to find linebackers forever. With little success.
 
Only three Eagles linebackers have made the Pro Bowl in the last 30 years -- Seth Joyner in 1991 and 1993, William Thomas in 1995 and 1996 and Trotter in 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2005. Ike Reese made it in 2004 as a special teamer.
 
Other than that, it’s been a bleak wasteland.
 
With his steady tackling, big plays in crucial situations and commanding presence on a young defense, Ryans is changing all that.
 
And putting an end to the speculation that Ryans just wasn’t the same player anymore when the Texans shipped him and a third-round pick to Philly for a fourth-round pick on March 20, 2012.
 
“I wasn’t trying to prove anything,” Ryans said. “I know there was speculation and Houston made some moves, they had other players, [Brian] Cushing was playing well and they were going to make Cushing their guy, so it wasn’t that I couldn’t play in a 3-4 or play well in a 3-4.”
 
Ryans has turned the page on Houston and become the linebacker the Eagles have been looking for since Trotter’s last big season nearly a decade ago.
 
Even if his Eagles career began a little sluggishly last summer.
 
“I never had any doubts,” Ryans said. “I was coming off an injury, 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 I couldn’t get back to this level.”
 
Turns out Ryans is a perfect fit in Davis’s 3-4.
 
On a defense loaded with first- and second-year players who have talent but are still learning the game and learning their roles, Ryans keeps the whole thing together.
 
“He quarterbacks the defense,” Davis said. “We give him a lot of leeway. He can get us in and out of defenses. Gets us in the best defense possible. And as the season has gone on, we as a staff have gotten more and more comfortable in his ability to put us in good situations, and he has.
 
“And from there he's done a great job playing the middle linebacker position. From tackle to tackle, he is a force.”

Asked about the luxury of having a steady veteran presence amid the youngest defensive line in the NFL, Davis says simply: “It’s an extreme luxury.”
 
Ryans represented the AFC in the Pro Bowl after the 2007 and 2009 seasons, and he was off to a good start in 2010 when he shredded his Achilles.
 
He wasn’t bad last year, but these first 10 weeks of the 2013 season -- and really the last five games specifically -- marks the first we’ve seen of the All-Pro caliber Ryans.
 
“It’s great to just be back playing at a high level, a Pro Bowl level,” Ryans said. “That’s what I strive for every year, and to do that coming off my injury a couple years ago, it’s good to be back in that position.”
 
Inside linebackers don’t pile up huge stats, but Ryans is the first Eagle linebacker with two interceptions and two sacks in a season since Trotter in 2001.
 
The two INTs are a career high and the two sacks are his most since 2007.
 
“This is the level I was playing at [in Houston],” Ryans said. “It’s fun to be back at that level, being able to make plays, and it’s not just me beating my chest about myself, it all starts with the guys in front of me.”
 
The Eagles are 5-5 after a 4-12 season, the defense has solidified after a shaky start, and Ryans is in the middle of all of it.
 
Will it be enough for Ryans to make his third Pro Bowl? How does he think he measures up to the other top inside backers in the NFC?
 
“I don’t measure myself against anybody,” he said. “I just measure myself against myself. I just go out to be the best that I can be. I know the type of player I can be, the type of level I can play at. So always just critiquing myself and seeing where I can get better.”
 
The Eagles will move into sole possession of first place ahead of the idle Cowboys Sunday with a win over the Redskins at the Linc.
 
For the defense, it will be a very good test against the NFL’s No. 5 offense.
 
Over the last five weeks, the Eagles are allowing only 17 points per game, sixth-best in the league during that span.
 
“Everybody bought into the system early,” Ryans said. “It was just a matter of continuing to do the same things and get better at what we were doing.
 
“It was new to all of us, so all of us were trying to kind of find our way and now I feel like everybody is comfortable with what we’re doing, everybody knows their role, guys are able to play fast and within their techniques and you see us start to make more plays.”