After a very aggressive offseason prior to the 2011-2012 NFL season – including signing Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha – the Philadelphia Eagles were thought to be one of the more likely Super Bowl contenders.
Quarterback Vince Young, who the team had signed to back up the reborn Mike Vick, labeled the team as a “dream team” before they’d even hit the field as a unit. But after getting off to a 4-8 start, it was clear that “dream team” was far too lofty of a label for the disappointing Eagles.
But this year the Eagles are garnering hype again, with many thinking they’ll rally behind head coach Andy Reid and finally “click.”
Most believe the key to the Eagles overcoming their inconsistencies from last year is on the defensive side of the ball, as outside of acquisitions Asomugha and Jason Babin (defensive end, 18 sacks), not much went well.
The concensus was that the Eagles needed a man in the middle to be the play caller, the quarterback of the offense. While that force has been lacking in Philly since Jeremiah Trotter’s heyday, it seems like it may now finally be a strength again.
Philadelphia acquired middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans from the Houston Texans for next-to-nothing in return. Now the only question is whether Ryans is the right guy for the job.
When looking at Ryans’ career, you first need to mention his durability. He’s played all 16 games in 5 of his 6 seasons (6 in 2010).
In addition, he’s productive. In his first 4 seasons, he averaged just under 130 tackles, and he was on pace for a season similar to that last year before suffering the first major injury of his career. Ryans went on record in 2011 saying that the injury took a toll on him emotionally (AOL Sporting News), but now he seems to be in a much better mental state due to the position he’s been put in with the Eagles.
“The 3-4 wasn’t something I couldn’t handle. I think I played well in the 3-4, and we had a good defense there. But it’s cool being back in the 4-3. It’s comfortable,” Ryans told ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano.
Ryans has reportedly looked very good in practice, and more importantly he’s looked very comfortable.
The key for a play- and audible-calling middle linebacker is comfort, much like it is for a Peyton Manning when running an offense. When you see a Manning pointing and waving, stomping and yelling, you’re never quite sure what he’s calling for … but you do know you can trust him because he’s got control over his offense; he knows it inside and out. The same will need to be the case for Ryans, and all signs point toward him being well on his way to being able to do all of that.
You rarely find a top-notch defense without a great middle linebacker, e.g. the Bears (Brian Urlacher), Ravens (Ray Lewis), or 49ers (Patrick Willis). It’s definitely too early to say that Ryans will be able to play on any of those guys’ levels, but if he can play at a consistent, smart level, the Eagles’ defense should definitely take great strides forward in this upcoming NFL season.
While all indications pointed toward Eagles fans having something special to cheer about last year, the team disappointed on the field. Though Philly did not bring in as many high-profile free agents this offseason, the one they did acquire could be the glue that leads the defense back to prominence and the Eagles back to the playoffs.