Davis intent on decreasing DeMeco Ryans' snaps

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Davis intent on decreasing DeMeco Ryans' snaps

No defensive player in the NFL played more snaps last year than DeMeco Ryans. No lineman, no D-back, no other linebacker.

His 1,156 plays represented 96 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps and was four more than Chad Greenway of the Vikings played.

That number is very high. And it has to come down, Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said Monday.

“We have to take reps off him,” Davis said. “He’s a warrior and he had way more reps than he should have.

“We want DeMeco for the long haul this season, and so many times when you overwork a veteran -- and he takes great care of his body -- but it’s a lot of games.”

Ryans averaged 72 snaps per game last season. Of the 45 snaps he didn’t play, 42 were at the end of blowouts -- 13 vs. the Bears, a 43-point win; nine vs. the Broncos, a 32-point loss; and 20 vs. the Raiders, a 29-point win.

Twelve times, including the playoff loss to the Saints, Ryans played every snap.

The only NFL players on the field last year more than Ryans were eight offensive linemen and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

But Ryans, a two-time Pro Bowler with the Texans, is an inside linebacker, the most physically demanding job on the field. He turns 30 next month, and with newcomers like Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll now in the secondary, Davis believes the Eagles are better equipped to spell Ryans this year on some passing downs.

“I think we have more depth than we had and more experience and more people who can play versatile roles in the defense,” Davis said. “I think it’ll help.”

Ryans said after a recent OTA practice that he wants to stay on the field in all situations, and he said there’s been no change in practice so far this offseason in his role.

“I’m a competitor,” Ryans said. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’m here to play. When it’s time to compete, it’s time to compete, but I think we’ll all help ourselves a lot defensively not by not playing more reps but by playing better, playing smarter.”

He joked with a reporter who asked him about reduced snaps, saying, “Trying to get me off the field?”

He added: “I guess that’s the question everybody wants to ask, but I’m still out here playing and giving the team what I have to go out and compete.”

Davis said he’s already spoken with Ryans about decreasing his snaps.

Perhaps significantly.

“Just [being] honest with him,” he said. “I’ve sat him down a couple times. DeMeco’s a great man, and I’ve said, ‘Look, I know you want to be out there every down, everybody does. But I’m telling you right now that I’m going to work to get some ways to give you some relief to have you with us in Week 15 and 16, and he’s great about it.

“He doesn’t want to come off. But neither does Connor [Barwin], neither does Trent [Cole]. None of them want to come off. But what we do as a team and collectively, when you’re honest and explain why it is you want to do what you do, they’re fine. They’re all team players.”

Ryans said head coach Chip Kelly’s sports science and emphasis on conditioning has made it possible for him to play an NFL-high 72 snaps per game without wearing down.

“It helps a lot,” Ryans said of the Eagles’ year-round workout regimen. “Being an older guy, you’re able to come out here day after day and play hard, practice hard, because we know we’re taking care of ourselves from a recovery standpoint.”

Even Davis conceded that Ryans’ play late last season showed no dropoff from early in the season.

He wants to make sure that happens again, with Ryans a year older.

“He had some big games late,” Davis said. “He was hitting people and covering. I don’t think it was any different.”

Eagles' 14th pick Derek Barnett aims on improving in one key area

Eagles' 14th pick Derek Barnett aims on improving in one key area

Derek Barnett has the unique distinction of being the only player this year who was drafted in the same city where he'll play next season.

In fact, the commissioner called his name just five miles from the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia. He could have walked to his new football home.

So Friday was pretty fun.

The Eagles' first-round pick was driven to Lincoln Financial Field, where he got a tour of the stadium and was then brought across the street to the NovaCare Complex, where he got to meet some more of his new coaches.

"The day's been fun for me," said Barnett, clad in a gray shadowbox suit with an Eagles lapel pin. "I've enjoyed myself. I can't wait until we start rookie camp and get around ball some more."

He can't wait to trade in that suit for his new No. 96 jersey. Rookie camp starts on May 12. 

But the work will start as soon as leaves the building Friday. 

"I'm going to have my iPad, so I'll be able to start learning the defense," Barnett said. 

On Thursday night, shortly after making the pick, Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas stood at the same podium in the Eagles' auditorium and praised Barnett for his tenacity, character, work ethic and technique. 

The next day, the humble 20-year-old talked about wanting to come in and learn from the team's veteran players and didn't hesitate when asked which area he wants to improve the most. 

"My eye discipline," he said. "Sometimes I like to put my eyes in the backfield too fast before defeating my block. So I think I need to continue to work on my eye discipline."

How will he do that?  

"Focusing on my work, making sure I'm beating my block," he answered. "If I'm going against the tight end, making sure I'm beating him first before I put my eyes in the backfield."

Barnett might not be the best athletic specimen as a prospect, but he makes up for it with his relentlessness and focus on technique, a lot of which was taught to him by coach Steve Stripling at Tennessee (see story)

But Barnett teaches himself plenty, too. He watches other great pass rushers, including Michael Bennett and previously Michael Strahan. He even went back and watched tape of Reggie White, whose sack record he broke in college. He wanted to learn White's "hump" move but decided it wasn't for him.

Barnett, while dealing with the flu, weighed in at the combine at 259 pounds, but said he'll put on as much weight as the Eagles' coaching staff wants him to. He thinks it won't affect his speed. 

The Eagles' newest defensive end is humble but eager. He can't wait to get around his new teammates as he transitions into the NFL. 

"I'm not going to sit back and wait my turn, but I'm going to come in and learn my role first," he said, "and get around these vets and learn what I have to do first to get on the field. Me being a first-round pick doesn't mean anything, it doesn't guarantee me a spot. I still have to come in and work and gain respect first."

The work starts now. 

Derek Barnett's college position coach: He can flip switch to 'monster'

Derek Barnett's college position coach: He can flip switch to 'monster'

For family days at the University of Tennessee, former defensive line coach Steve Stripling's wife Gayle would make cookies for the crowd. And every time she did, it didn't go unnoticed by the Vols' best player. 

Every time, without fail, Derek Barnett would make a point to seek her out and say, "Hey Mrs. Strip, thank you for the cookies." 

It's a small thing, thanking someone for cookies. But it's something that seems to exemplify the type of players the Eagles are focused on bringing into the organization, especially with new VP of player personnel Joe Douglas leading the draft charge. And it was the one of the stories that stuck out most to Steve Stripling on Friday morning, 12 hours after the pick was made. 

"He's got that in him," Stripling said to CSNPhilly.com on Friday morning, just before boarding a flight from Philadelphia back to Tennessee, "and then on the football field, I've seen him just be a monster. 

"He has that ability to be quiet, unassuming, polite, respectful, all that, and then on the football field, he's a warrior. When he walks on the football field, he's different, totally different." 

Barnett, 20, is a pretty quiet and reserved guy. Some fans thought he didn't look pleased to be picked by the Eagles with the 14th pick on Thursday night, but that's not true. That's just his demeanor — off the field. 

On the field, Barnett is a relentless technician with an exceptional motor that powered him to 33 sacks at Tennessee, breaking Reggie White's long-standing record. 

"If you get to know him, he doesn't say much," Stripling said. "He's very quiet, but on the football field, when he says something, everyone pays attention. He just has that built into him, to play hard and he's a grinder and focused and all those things."

Stripling joined the Volunteers' coaching staff as an associate head coach and defensive line coach for the 2013 season. That was the year spent recruiting Barnett out of Brentwood Academy in Brentwood, Tennessee. After Barnett's 2016 season, Stripling, 63, took a job as the director of football program development, but he was Barnett's position coach for all three years of his college stay. 

And from the time Barnett arrived on the Tennessee campus in 2014, it didn't take long for the coaching staff to realize something was special about him. 

Stripling recalls a play that the coaching staff has shown "a thousand times" since it happened back in 2014. During the first or second day of Volunteers' two-a-day camp, Barnett, then a freshman, showed that relentless style for which he's now become known. Barnett lined up as the team's right end as the ball broke to the left and the carrier jetted down field. From out of nowhere, Barnett chased him 40 yards downfield and delivered a sideline hit. 

Before that play, Tennessee knew Barnett was good. After that play, it knew he was special. 

"Usually when a freshman gets to camp, they're just trying to fit in, learn their way," Stripling said. "But it was from Day 1." 

The Tennessee defensive line room tried to live by an acronym: EAT — effort, accountability and technique. Barnett represented all of those facets. 

But perhaps more than anything, the technique part of his game is what really stands out. The use of his hands and his ability to bend as a pass rusher are the traits that vaulted him into the top half of the first round. 

And Barnett credits "Coach Strip" for a lot of it. 

"I’ll you what, he was hard on me," Barnett wrote about Stripling in the Players' Tribune. "From the very first day I arrived on campus, he was on me to refine whatever physical talents I had so that I could become a well-rounded football player."

In addition to working with Tennessee coaches, Barnett has also spent time in the offseason working with former NFL defensive lineman and pass-rush guru Chuck Smith. 

Barnett (6-3, 259 pounds) didn't perform well at the 2017 combine in Indianapolis. Even though he was dealing with the flu, he wanted to show more. But on Thursday night, that lackluster performance didn't seem to bother Douglas, who raved about his technique and even dropped some scouty lingo with the phrase "ankle flexion." 

Stripling, meanwhile, compared Barnett's bend as a pass rusher to former Colts great Dwight Freeney. 

"I think that's athletic ability to me, even though it's not a 40-yard time," Stripling said. "It's the ability to get low, reduce the surface and turn the corner. And I think that's one of his strong suites."

And then there's something Barnett has that simply can't be coached: instincts. Barnett, according to Stripling, has the unique ability to leave his gap responsibility at exactly the right time, when necessary to make a play: 

"I would say, 'Derek, how did you know the ball was going there?' He'd say, 'I just knew it.'"

For Stripling, Thursday night at the Ben Franklin Parkway was quite a thrill. A college coach since 1977, this was the first NFL draft he had ever attended. Hours after the Eagles used their 14th pick to take Barnett and hours after the hoopla surrounding the event had faded, Stripling sat up late with Barnett, his mother Christine and the rest of the family, reminiscing and reflecting. 

A little earlier in the night, when Barnett's name was called, Stripling happened to be seated near a group of inquisitive Eagles fans. 

"They were saying, 'who is this guy?'" Stripling recalled. "And I said, 'you're going to love this guy. He's going to work hard, he's going to be tough, he's going to make plays, you're going to love him.' I'm excited for him, it's going to be a good fit."