Forget about the embarrassment of the 2011 season. This team can’t possibly be as bad again.
Each player had a full off-season to work with his position coach. There were no holdouts. Multiple stars received offseason contract extensions. There are no free agent acquisitions looking for a one-year stint to improve their career. Even the incompetent defensive coordinator has had an offseason–his first, actually–to learn the x’s and o’s of coaching an NFL defense.
The purpose of this upcoming series is to rank the 10 most important players to the 2012 Eagles. These players were chosen for a number of reasons. Obviously they are all talented starters. But it’s also worth looking at the backups. If this player goes down for the year in week three, who will step up and perform?
As all of my lists go, this one will begin at the bottom and work its way to the top.
3. DeMeco Ryans
There are a million reasons why the Eagles missed the playoffs in 2011, and that’s hardly even an exaggeration.
Michael Vick missed three games. Vince Young called the Eagles a dream team. DeSean Jackson sulked because he didn’t get a new contract. Danny Watkins struggled to adapt to the right guard position. Nnamdi Asomugha struggled in his new role at cornerback. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie didn’t appear to give a full effort at slot corner.
But there is probably no reason more obvious than the Eagles’ struggles at the linebacker positions–all three of them.
From Jamar Chaney to Casey Matthews to Brian Rolle to Moise Fokou to Akeem Jordan to Keenan Clayton, the Eagles’ linebackers failed to even adequately perform throughout the season.
The key to the wide-9 defense is having speedy linebackers who can stop the run to compensate for the defensive line, which is usually in the backfield within a second or two of the center’s snap.
So players like Matthews, who is as slow as molasses, just didn’t even remotely cut it.
He became a poor fit for the Houston Texans when they switched to a 3-4 defense, so Houston traded Ryans to the Eagles for a fourth round draft pick.
That trade was an absolute steal for the Eagles.
Ryans was a tackling machine in Houston. He collected an average of seven tackles a game, which translates to 112 over a full season. For the Eagles, that would be a dream come true.
Ryans suffered an Achilles tendon injury in the 2010 season, but he is totally healed almost two years later.
The Eagles are expected to have a dominant defensive line this season, behind Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri, Brandon Graham, Darryl Tapp, Vinny Curry, and Cedric Thornton.
They’re expected to have a much-improved secondary, with corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie both looking to have big years after disappointing in 2011, and safety Nate Allen hoping for a breakout year in his third season.
The linebackers need to be improved, and if they are, the Eagles can have a dominant defense. With rookie second round draft pick Mychal Kendricks playing strongside linebacker and Ryans in the middle, the Eagles could have their best group of linebackers in a number of seasons.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. You can follow Bryn on Twitter by clicking here and here. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.