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Fan-Demonium: One Word ... Awesome

Posted Mar 21, 2012

Fan-Demonium

I previously wrote about how the Eagles were off to a smart start with their offseason plan. The team had given contract extensions to Todd Herremans and Trent Cole. Right after that, the team agreed to a long term deal with DeSean Jackson. News broke over the weekend that guard Evan Mathis was coming back and would sign a five-year deal. All of these were really good moves.

But there was still an empty feeling. We all wanted a linebacker to be added. On Tuesday night, that finally happened. The Eagles traded for Pro Bowl middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. My one word review for the deal ... awesome.

Here's a quick story on Ryans to get started. A couple of years ago, I was watching the Texans play in a preseason game. I don't recall who the opponent was and it isn't really important. There was a running play early in the game where Ryans flew over and forcefully put the running back down. I distinctly remember thinking, "It must be nice to have a linebacker who plays like that." Needless to say, I can't wait to see Ryans in midnight green.

I remember studying him for the draft. Ryans played outside linebacker at Alabama and I had concerns about whether he was athletic enough to stay there in the NFL. The Texans grabbed him and put him at middle linebacker. Ryans has looked right at home on the inside. That is where he was meant to be.

I sat down last night and watched several Texans games from the past two seasons. I wanted to get a good feel for what kind of a linebacker he is. I didn't want to rely on my memory or just some highlights that would make him look like a cross between Dick Butkus and Superman. I wanted to see him in action, good and bad.

Ryans impressed me. I love the way he plays. At Alabama, Ryans was a wild, attacking player. That is gone from his system and he is a savvy veteran linebacker these days. Ryans gets his teammates adjusted and lined up correctly. He runs the defense. He does a good job of diagnosing plays and being in the right spot. Ryans is a patient player, which I mean as a compliment. At the snap, he doesn't feel the need to fly downhill. He will read the play and flow to the ball under control.

Don't think that Ryans is some passive, finesse linebacker. Nothing could be further from the truth. He takes his time to read the play, but once he does, Ryans is on the move in a hurry and he has bad intentions. He gets to the ball quickly and puts his targets down. Ryans is a strong, physical tackler. He can wrap guys up or he can hit. When he does hit, Ryans follows the old football maxim, "Don't run to the player, run through the player."

Ryans has a sense of ownership with the middle of the field. That is his turf. Enter at your own risk. Put on the Saints game from last year and you'll see him knock players down as they start to run pass routes. This is completely legal inside of five yards. Ryans did it to a tight end and wide receiver. I watched part of a game against the Giants from 2010. Wide receiver Steve Smith tried to block him on a toss play to the outside. Ryans threw him to the ground and chased after the running back. It looked like the way you or I might swat at a fly or bee. Ryans barely paid Smith any attention, but Smith got a face full of turf for his attempted block. That's the kind of subtle, but physical play I love out of linebackers. Be mean and kick some butt. Hit players and control your part of the field.

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He was a finalist for Philadelphia's Most Influential Blogger Award and is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com

Ryans is exactly the kind of smart, tough, experienced linebacker that the Eagles defense needed. So many times last year the linebackers were sloppy. Ryans is the rock in the middle, the foundation of the linebacker corps. The other players can learn from him. His steady play will have a strong influence on them. When you fully trust the guy beside you and know that he's carrying out the correct assignment, it has a calming effect and helps a player to be more confident.

Ryans is a natural leader. That was the case at Alabama and with his time in Houston. His Texans teammates are in shock that he's gone. Between posting on Twitter and talking to the media, the comments from his teammates make Ryans out to be a really important person as well as a player. I went back to study some old draft notes on him. I found an interesting nugget that I had completely forgotten about.

When Ryans was at Alabama, he got his teammates to donate their per diem (daily food money) for a bowl game to help raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims. They raised several thousand dollars by doing this. Ryans was a good student and team leader. His teammates respected him. That's the kind of man the Philadelphia Eagles are getting. He's somebody you can be proud of, on and off the field.

It is great to have Ryans on board.  I do need to make this clear.  Ryans isn't a dynamic type of player the way Patrick Willis is.  Don't expect Ryans to fly all over the field and make dramatic plays.  The Eagles acquired him to sit between the tackles and stuff run plays.  He is here to do the little things.  That's what the Eagles defense needs.  His presence and leadership are also huge selling points.  He will run the defense from day one. 

There is some question about whether Ryans is a three-down linebacker.  Yes, I think so.  He didn't play in passing situations for Houston last year, but that's because they didn't use the nickel defense.  They either went with the base unit or a dime look.  Brian Cushing was the only linebacker in the dime.  They would sometimes walk a safety down to act as a linebacker.  It wasn't as if Ryans lost his job.  They somewhat eliminated the job.  In the past, Ryans played all the time.  He is effective in coverage.  He is in the right position and has the quickness and instincts to handle running backs and tight ends. 

People often overlook a key point when talking about linebackers in passing situations.  If you go to the nickel or dime, teams will sometimes just run the ball down your throat.  Remember Reggie Bush and the Dolphins?  They got the Eagles into playing the nickel and ran up the middle over and over.  It was too little, too late, but it did work to an extent.  Ryans is a physical enough player that he will shut down teams who try to run up the middle against the nickel.  Ryans can take on offensive linemen and shed blocks.  He doesn't need to be kept totally clean to be effective. 

I love what the Eagles have done so far this offseason.  The offensive line is set for years.  DeSean Jackson is a happy camper and that should help him to play his best.  Trent Cole got the money he deserved.  Now the team has a quality, veteran middle linebacker for the first time in a while.  Life is good.

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