Like DDD says, your MLB should be the “face” of your 4-3 defense… but in the case of DeMeco Ryans, that face needs to include “legs”…
Wisely, Andy Reid and Juan Castillo have smelled the coffee, and Ryans will be pulled out of 3rd down-and-long situations to be reinforced by a coverage LB with younger legs…
DeMeco Ryans, 6-1, 247, 7th year out of Alabama, was drafted in the 2nd round by Houston in 2006… he’s still got the juice to fill the gaps against the running game and short screens in the NFL, but due to natural loss of foot-speed after Achilles tendon injury two years ago, the former all-pro Houston Texan is still suspect on obvious passing downs…
The Eagles’ defense could feature as many as six linebackers in Sunday’s regular-season opener at Cleveland.
“They’re all going to play,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said Friday in quotes provided by the team. “They [linebackers] all have a role in one phase or another. We had success with it towards the end of last year. They are all interchangeable, which is a good thing. They all know each other’s position and have gotten reps at all the positions, so it works out well.”
“We’ve done this in the past. We did it as far back as when (late defensive coordinator) Jim (Johnson) was here (from 1999-2008). We put guys in and took guys out for certain situations and I think you see that throughout the league. You see linebackers that rotate. I don’t think it’s any novelty here.”
DeMeco Ryans is expected to start at middle linebacker and be flanked by Akeem Jordan (weakside linebacker) and rookie Mychal Kendricks (strongside linebacker). Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews and Brian Rolle — all of whom started at various points last season — also will get their share of playing time depending on down and distance.
That wasn’t the original plan. The Eagles acquired Ryans in a trade with Houston in the hopes that he would bring stability and leadership to the group. They have been lacking a standout in the middle since Jeremiah Trotter was in his prime about a decade ago. Last season, Matthews started the season in the middle but was replaced by Chaney after just two games.
“I don’t decide who goes out on the field,” Ryans said Thursday. “That’s up to the coaches. I’ll do whatever it takes to win games, whatever it takes to get it done. It’s all about winning games.”
Ryans, a two-time Pro Bowler with the Texans, started all 16 games for the Texans last season but got off to a slow start while recovering from a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon suffered in 2010. He was a non-factor for the Eagles during the preseason, making just five tackles in three games, including none in the first game against Pittsburgh, before sitting out the finale.
Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo took offense to the suggestion that Ryans has yet to live up to expectations Thursday.
“I think that DeMeco did make plays,” Castillo said. “He made plays in practice. He did things. He got everybody lined up. He’s been a leader for our group. He’s done some good things that we see and sometimes I think it’s not always judged on tackles. He is feeling comfortable with our system and he’s doing a good job for our young kids.
“I think the thing that’s really special is that you see him in (meetings) and the notes that he takes and how he prepares for games. That’s invaluable. You see the other kids sitting right next to him and they see the way he takes notes and the way he prepares and that’s where he is really valuable to those guys. I’ve seen the difference he makes in the middle. Think about how much we really played (during the preseason). It really begins on Sunday. We really haven’t played that much through the preseason, but it begins on Sunday.”
Castillo, Reid and linebackers coach Mike Caldwell have been mixing and matching various combinations since training camp began in late July. They initially had so many linebackers that they traded Moises Fokou and Greg Lloyd Jr. to Indianapolis.
Rolle opened the preseason as the starting weakside linebacker but was demoted in favor of Akeem Jordan two weeks ago. Chaney, who was supposed to challenge for that starting job, was slowed by a strained hamstring and only recently began practicing again. Matthews has been bothered by a high ankle sprain but practiced this week.
Kendricks, a second-round draft pick from the University of California, has been the most consistent player of the group. “I would expect for all of us to be playing,” Kendricks said Thursday. “The coaches have got us in a rotation all the time, so we know each other’s tendencies and how we do things.”
I’m all for the strategic rotation of your linebackers. I have accepted that DeMeco is not the same athlete that got selected for the Pro Bowl a few years ago. He is still solid, but he is slower. It happens. So you take him out of obvious situations that require footspeed. What is the big deal?
Don’t major league baseball managers make a living out of playing the percentages when they match up relief pitchers with certain game situations? At least in the NFL, you can bring the guy you “relieved” back into the game for appropriate down-and-distance situations… to me, that’s a Win-Win…
So I reject the naysayers who are saying DeMeco Ryans is a let-down or crippled answer to the perennial MIKE question in Philly… Judge him only on his 1st and 2nd down responsibilities, if you must…because it is okay to bring in a relief pitcher on 3rd down. This is the modern NFL. We do pitch counts now. We do percentage substitutions. We do personnel matchups. It’s okay…it’s called evolution.
I’m way more concerned about the 9-technique pass rush of the Eagles being able to set the edge against Cleveland’s running game. You better be able to set that edge with outside-in leverage, boy, or we could be in for a Woody-style slugfest. Cleveland (and Brandon Weeden) knows us very well.