Prior to the start of the 2012 season, DeMeco Ryans was traded to the Eagles from the Houston Texas in a move that took many people around the NFL by surprise. Ryans had been a two-time Pro Bowl selection with the Texans and was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006. Some believed that Ryans had lost a step since his 2010 Achilles injury and that he would never be the same player.
Those doubters have received a major wakeup call in 2013, as Ryans appears to once again be at the top of his game. Ryans has 125 tackles and his two interceptions are already the most he's had in any of his eight seasons as a pro.
On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Bill Davis said that Ryans was having "an outstanding, Pro Bowl season," and Ryans agrees that he's been playing well, though he claims that he never felt the need to prove his worth after his injury.
"I know there was speculation and I know that Houston made some moves," Ryans said. "(Brian) Cushing was playing well and they were going to make Cushing their guy. It wasn't that I couldn't play well in a 3-4.
"It's great to hear Coach Davis say that about me and it's great to just be back playing at a high level, a Pro Bowl level. That's what I strive for every year, to do that. Coming off of my injury a couple of years ago, it's good to be back in that position."
It was a long road to recovery for the middle linebacker, but Ryans, now 29, believes that he is every bit the same player that he was in his All-Pro season of 2007 and has never questioned his ability.
"I never had any doubts," Ryans explained. "I was coming off of injury and I knew that I still had work to put in to get back to where I wanted to be. I never had a doubt in my mind that I could get back to this level. … This is the level I was playing at. It's fun to be back at that level and being able to make plays. It's not just me making plays by myself. It all starts with the guys in front of me."
From that young defensive line all the way through the secondary, the Eagles defense has shown steady improvement in every week since the season began. According to Ryans, the key to the Eagles' success on defense has been the increased level of comfort in Davis' scheme.
"Everybody bought into the system early and it was just a matter of continuing to do the same things and getting better at what we were doing," Ryans explained. "It was new to all of us, so all of us were trying to find our way, and now I kind of feel like everybody is comfortable with what we're doing. Everybody knows their role and guys are able to play fast and play within their techniques, and you see us start to make more plays."
There is no question that Ryans has led the way for the defense all season long. Now that the unit is dealing with injuries to starters Mychal Kendricks and Bradley Fletcher, it's fair to think that Ryans may shoulder more of a load. However, the Eagles' leading tackler believes that onus lies on every player who takes the field to step up when someone goes down.
"Nothing more comes on me," said Ryans. "It's 'Next man up' and the next man steps in and there's no added pressure on me or added weight on my shoulders if a guy goes down. The next man just has to step in and do his job to the best of his ability."