PHILADELPHIA (AP) — DeMeco Ryans has plenty on his plate, and his every move is heavily scrutinized.
When the Philadelphia Eagles acquired the two-time Pro Bowl linebacker from Houston in March, Ryans was viewed as a savior for a much-maligned defense. Expectations are that high for Ryans, and he knows it.
Fans want Ryans to be a combination of Brian Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter. The defense has been missing a leader since Dawkins departed for Denver after the 2008 season. The Eagles haven’t had a playmaker at middle linebacker since Trotter wreaked havoc nearly a decade ago.
So when Ryans failed to make any sparkling plays in the preseason, some wondered if he was overhyped. But defensive coordinator Juan Castillo measures his value by more than what the stat sheet shows.
“I think that DeMeco did make plays. He made plays in practice,” Castillo said Thursday. “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. We get to see the tape. 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 installs 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.”
Like Castillo, Ryans downplayed the preseason numbers. The individual stats matter even less than Philadelphia’s 4-0 record.
“Everything counts now,” Ryans said. “The time is now. When the season is over, I never remembered anybody going back and talking about the preseason. You never hear anything else about it. It’s just flavor of the month. That’s what it was at the time. The season is what people remember.”
Ryans’ job description includes more than making tackles and chasing ballcarriers. He’s the quarterback on defense, the guy who has to make all the calls and read offenses. Ryans also is being counted on for leadership at a position that was a revolving door for Philadelphia last year.
The Eagles used three different starters at the weakside spot, two in the middle and three on the strong side. Rookie Mychal Kendricks will be starting alongside Ryans and veteran Akeem Jordan.
“My job is my credibility to my teammates,” Ryans said. “That’s the only thing that matters. I understand those expectations, but the expectations for myself, that weighs more on me than anything else.”
Ryans was a second-round draft pick by the Texans in 2006, the same year the team took Mario Williams with the top overall pick. Ryans made the bigger initial impact of the two stars, making 156 tackles to earn The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Ryans left the Texans as the franchise’s career leader with 637 tackles. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2009, and returned to play 16 games last year after tearing his left Achilles in 2010.
“He’s a good football player in a lot of areas besides the leadership part,” Castillo said.
Part of the reason why Ryans struggled during the preseason had to do with adjusting to a new defensive system. Cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had similar problems early last season in their first year in Philadelphia.
“Different terminology for all of the fronts, the blitzes, the coverages, and I think that’s what takes a little bit of time because now you don’t have time to think,” Castillo said. “You have to react and you have make sure if that works and can I translate it into what I am used to. I think in time what will happen is he will feel really comfortable. I think that’s the challenge.”
Ryans has a favorable matchup in the season opener Sunday at Cleveland. The Eagles will be facing rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and rookie running back Trent Richardson.
“I want to go out and dominate against young guys because it’s going to be their first game,” Ryans said. “Guys should be a little bit nervous about their first game and we want to make it even harder on them.”