For the newly christened leader of the Eagles defense, this was day one. When the Eagles acquired middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans from the Houston Texans back on March 20, the message was the same from Andy Reid and Howie Roseman down to players like Casey Matthews: Ryans would bring a needed presence on the field for the Eagles, both in his play and his passion.
So when the full roster took the field at the NovaCare Complex Tuesday for the first day of voluntary Organized Team Activities, Ryans, 27, was right there, taking every rep as the first-team middle linebacker.
"It was fun," said Ryans. "I've just been waiting for a long time to put the Eagles gear on and step up out there. It was fun being able to come together as a team and get a little practice in. I enjoyed it. Things start moving kind of fast out there the first day, but it was a good start for us."
Though Ryans is the experienced one among the current first unit of linebackers, he's new to the defense. Second-round rookie Mychal Kendricks is new to professional football period, while Brian Rolle has only one year with the Eagles under his belt.
"We're all helping each other out," Ryans said of the linebackers. "It's not one guy running the show, all of us are helping out."
But when he's asked about his role as a leader, Ryans doesn't shy away from the responsibility. He does, however, say it's an ongoing process.
"It doesn't take long," he said, "it just takes time to learn the guys, learn the locker room and get comfortable around everyone. Being here over the past month and working out with the guys, you start to get more and more comfortable."
Ryans is also fully aware of the importance of these spring practices. Last year, because of the work stoppage, the Eagles defense got together for the first time in training camp, needing to learn a new scheme while incorporating a slew of new pieces. Partially as a result, the team allowed 22.75 points per game over the first eight games, compared to 18.25 points allowed over the second half of the season (including an impressive 11.5 points allowed per game over the final four games).
Last summer in Houston, Ryans had to transition into a completely different scheme, Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense, which was a stark contrast to the 4-3 he'd played in Houston during his first five seasons. Now, in a welcome difference, Ryans and the rest of the Eagles defense has time to take things slowly.
"Having the spring practices is important because you get to detail your defense," Ryans said. "You get to really hit all the details. Last year, defense was starting over new, you had to kind of learn it over new, learn it on the fly, and there wasn't the detail to go into it. This time around, we get to detail our defense, take our time, install and really master what we're doing.
"Right now, I think we're working well together, communicating. It's all about communicating and right now we're doing a good job of communicating with one another and it just gets better from here on out."
Finally, Ryans believes the defense will benefit from their competition in practice - an offense that features playmakers like Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
"We have a lot of speed on offense and things are happening very fast out there," he said. "I see a lot of playmakers and I'm excited about our offense. Being able to go against them is going to be tough for us, but that's what you need. You go against a tough offense in practice, it makes game day a lot easier when you're facing opposing offenses."