DeMeco Ryans came to the Philadelphia Eagles from the Houston Texans in an offseason trade to fill what has been a gaping hole at middle linebacker. He brought with him six years of NFL experience, reputation as a popular team leader, and a question mark attached as to how well he can still play after suffering an Achilles tendon injury not that long ago. Ryans only played 58.4 percent of defensive snaps with the Texans in 2011, and while part of that was due to Houston’s switch to a 3-4 system, part of it was also talk that Ryans’ coverage skills had diminished.
So far into training camp, Eagles have used Ryans for both the nickel and dime coverage packages, teaming with Jamar Chaney at linebacker when the defense uses five defensive backs and out there alone at linebacker when they go with six defensive backs.
Even if Ryans is a two-down guy, he will still be a significant upgrade, not only because of his leadership, but also because of his ability to stop the run, something Eagles linebackers haven’t been able to do in past years. In Jim Washburn’s wide-nine setup, with emphasis on pass rushing, the middle linebacker is often the man charged with making the first contact on ball carriers, and no one doubts Ryans is still as strong doing that as he was in his Pro Bowl years.
The Eagles needed help in the middle and have for some time now. Last three seasons, Eagles have gone through nine starters at the middle linebacker position. (Omar Gaither, Jeremiah Trotter, Will Witherspoon, Chris Gocong, Joe Mays, Akeem Jordan, Stewart Bradley, Casey Matthews, and Chaney.) Some could play the run. Some could play the pass. Some could do both, but none could do it particularly well.
Ryans has started more games (87) than all the other Eagles linebackers combined (49).