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.”

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

With three sacks in three games, Brandon Graham is off to the fastest start of his career by far, already almost halfway to his career high of 6½. Naturally, the Eagles' defensive end is excited about the production, but not nearly as excited as he was with the defense as a whole after a 34-3 romp over the Steelers on Sunday.

"For us, I was just happy we stayed together, we played together and the outcome was good," Graham said postgame. "Hats off to Pittsburgh because we did a lot of planning for them. We respect them a lot.

"I am just happy to get this win and I am happy in the style we did it."

Graham was one of four Eagles players to bring down Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, marking the first time the seventh-year veteran has recorded at least one sack in three consecutive games. In fact, prior to this season, Graham had never posted a sack in Week 1.

For once, the numbers are taking care of themselves for Graham — although that's not what he's focused on.

"Since I've been here, I've never gotten a sack in the first game, and I've never been consistent," Graham said. "I'm just trying to be the leader, go out there, get W's and be relentless."

There are plenty of explanations for Graham's seemingly sudden emergence.

This is only his second season as a full-time player in the NFL after injuries, then depth conspired to keep the 2010 first-round pick on the bench early in his career. Perhaps all he needed was an opportunity. The switch back to a 4-3 defense and wide-nine front no doubt helped rejuvenate Graham's career as well, allowing him to move from outside linebacker back to his natural position at defensive end and focus on rushing the passer.

With Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith all rotating in at end, Graham is also being kept fresh. Last season, the Eagles lacked the quality reserves to provide many breathers for Barwin and Graham on the outside.

"It's a great feeling because there's no pressure to hurry up and get back out," Graham said. "I feel like everybody is just as good and there's no drop-off when we come out of there.

"It's definitely going to help us later on in the year. It's been helping now."

There are all sorts of schematic reasons why Graham could finally be on his way to a breakout season. This will be his first full season as a starter at D-end in a 4-3, it's the first time since 2012 he's in a wide-nine and the defense no longer has to be worried about being exhausted by Chip Kelly's offense's uptempo approach.

Graham was also blessed with a new addition to his family during the offseason — a baby girl. The 28-year-old admits that changed his perspective as well, making him want to work even harder toward achieving his goals.

"Just the preparation and then the work this offseason, I took it up to another level," Graham said. "I guess because I had a daughter this offseason, everything is kind of viewed a different way for me.

"I know we have a good defense — that helps out a lot, too. I couldn't ask for a better defense right now."

Clearly, those goals are not individually motivated. Graham wants to be part of something great, and with a dominant performance against the Steelers in Week 3, the Eagles and their defense passed a huge test.

"I feel like we improved," Graham said. "We got a lot better. We stopped a good team, a great team, a well-coached team. Our hats off to them because they made us work this week."

Few people were expecting the Eagles to handle a trendy Super Bowl pick the way they did, and Graham actually prefers it that way.

"I hope we still get overlooked because it feels so good when people are talking the way they did," Graham said. "It added a little fuel. We watched a little bit of the TV (Sunday) morning, and they were just saying how [the Steelers] were going to dog us.

"I'm just happy that we came out and did what we were supposed to do, and I hope we stay the underdog because, for us, nobody gave us a chance and we stayed together. If we stay together in here, that's all that matters."

Through three games, the Eagles lead the NFL in fewest points surrendered with a paltry 27 and rank fourth in yards allowed. They're also tied for third with 10 sacks and tied for seventh with six takeaways.

If the defense stays together the way Graham says they have, how far does he think the Eagles go this season?

"I don't know," Graham said. "If we keep playing like that, there is no ceiling."

Carson Wentz named NFC Offensive Player of the Week

Carson Wentz named NFC Offensive Player of the Week

Another week, another award for Carson Wentz.

This time the Eagles' electrifying rookie has been named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Steelers.

In the 34-3 win over Pittsburgh, Wentz completed 23 of 31 passes for 301 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 125.9. It was the first 300-yard game of his very young career.

Wentz is the first rookie QB in Eagles history to win an Offensive Player of the Week award, and the first Eagle to win the award since Jeremy Maclin in Week 9 of the 2014 season.

Through three games, the 23-year-old has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards and five touchdowns. He's the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to achieve those stats in the first three games of a career. He still hasn't thrown an interception in 102 passing attempts, which is a record for rookies.

It looks like Wentz will have plenty more opportunities for awards this season.