Philadelphia Eagles News

LBs Push D To New Heights

They are having a grand old time, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are, on and off the field in their first seasons as Philadelphia Eagles.

Ryans is the veteran, acquired in a trade with Houston in the offseason, a Pro Bowl in his past and the desire to again be classified as one of the best linebackers in all of the NFL.

Kendricks is the rook, taken in the second round of April's draft, with a chip on his shoulder from the moment he arrived at the NovaCare Complex.

Together they have helped escalate the Eagles defense to a new level, one that has dominated in the second half of consecutive wins to open the 2012 season.

Want to know the single-biggest difference in the defense? It certainly wouldn't be inaccurate to point to the linebacker group, one that has changed from one year to the next for much of the Andy Reid era but now is a strength of the defense.

Along with Akeem Jordon on the weak side, the linebackers have been spectacular. Ryans and Kendricks have played nearly every snap in the opening two games and have demonstrated the all-around play that Juan Castillo demands behind the up-the-field philosophy of the front four.

"We're having a lot of fun, all of us on defense, going out there and playing together," said Ryans. "I think you see the speed we all have and how we're playing together. If you play as a unit, you're going to have success."

With Ryans in the middle and Kendricks on the strong side, the Eagles have been able to effectively cover backs and tight ends in the passing game, and they've had great success penetrating against the run. Both have been sideline-to-sideline players, as hoped.

And both have leaned on each other to learn the defense, to learn the ways of being an Eagle and of helping the defense clinch wins in the final minutes of the first two games of the season.

"It's been great learning from DeMeco and seeing how he does things," said Kendricks. "I think we're all tight. There's a lot to learn in the defense and so we've all been going through that together.

"Winning the first two games and being on the field at the end, it's been great. The fans were so excited on Sunday and it gave us a lift. I think we have a lot of confidence and we believe in each other, but Sunday is a new game and a new challenge. We know that."

The hope, of course, is that the Eagles are in the early stages of continuity at linebacker. They've sifted through dozens of combinations in the last two decades, using high draft picks, big dollars in free agency and valuable assets in the trade market and just haven't been able to get it right at linebacker.

Now, linebacker seems as promising as at any time in the Reid years, even if the sample is only two games. Ryans has all of his speed back from the Achilles injury he suffered two years ago as a member of the Texans, and if there was any question of that just watch Sunday's game and see how Ryans tracked down Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco from halfway across the field for a sack. He's been great in pass coverage, contributing an interception in Sunday's win.

Kendricks, of course, has been all over the field since Day 1. He's a powerful kid who plays with tremendous energy and gusto. He has been coached well by linebackers coach Mike Caldwell and has quickly absorbed the nuances of the defense. Kendricks plays physical football and, clearly, the best is yet to come for the rookie.

While the front four is as talented as any in football and the back four -- let's say five, including nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin -- is vastly improved over last year, the biggest upgrade on the defense has come at linebacker. Jordan shouldn't be ignored in the conversation, either, as he's jumped into a starting role and has been solid.

But Ryans and Kendricks grab most of the headlines and most of the attention and, honestly, deservedly so. They've been great in two games, with more tests ahead. They're friends, they're teacher and pupil, and they're fierce competitors in and away from the game.

More than anything, they're having a great time.

"You can't ask for much better of a start," said Ryans. "This is exactly why I was so excited when I was traded here. The Eagles wanted me. I wanted to be here, and once I got to understand what they wanted from me, it was even better. This is just the start. We have a lot of great things ahead of us. I think everyone here believes that."

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