During one of the teach periods on Monday, defensive coordinator Billy Davis called for the first-team nickel to take the field and line up against trash cans that simulated the offense.
Brandon Boykin came on the field, and Bennie Logan walked off. But at linebacker, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks stayed put.
Chip Kelly said earlier this offseason that adding depth at inside linebacker was a priority. But the Eagles didn’t see anybody they liked in free agency. In the first round of the draft, they would have loved for Alabama’s C.J. Mosley to fall to them, but that didn’t happen either.
So for now, the plan seems to be to stick with the same guys from a year ago.
“Right now, it’s still the same personnel,” Ryans confirmed.
The 30-year-old played more snaps than any other linebacker in the game last year. He has many strengths: leadership, smarts and the ability to diagnose plays and pound opposing running backs.
Those strengths, however, are not in the pass game – whether that’s coverage or rushing the quarterback. The Eagles ranked 24th in third-down defense last year, allowing opponents to convert at a 40.3 percent clip. Obviously, there were multiple reasons for that, from the lack of a consistent pass-rush to poor safety play. But replacing Ryans with a cover linebacker in obvious passing situations and lightening his workload would have made sense.
Of course, no one should expect Ryans to support that viewpoint. He’s started every game since the Eagles acquired him during the 2012 offseason and does not want to come off the field.
“I’m a competitor,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’m gonna play in whatever. When it’s time to compete, it’s time to compete. I think we’ll all help ourselves defensively by not playing more reps, by playing better, playing smarter.”
Asked if there are currently any packages where he comes off the field, Ryans responded: “No. You trying to get me off the field?”
Ryans is a coach’s dream, serving as Davis’ extension from the box upstairs to the field. He gets guys lined up, makes the calls and tries to put his teammates in positions where they can be successful. There’s no doubt Kelly, Davis and the rest of the organization value those things. When the team signed Malcolm Jenkins, they talked about him being the Ryans of the back end.
It’s only June, and things could change in the coming months. Maybe the Eagles will experiment with some dime packages. Maybe one of the backups like Najee Goode or Jason Phillips will mix into the rotation.
But for now, the most likely scenario is Ryans playing the same role in 2014 that he played last year.
WHAT YOU MISSED
Allen Barbre signs a deal to keep him in Philly through 2017.
Two national writers disagree over the Eagles’ most concerning position, and another expresses doubt about Nick Foles.
Says Lane Johnson: “I’m trying to be a dominant player. I know I have the ability.”
T-Mac spoke with Jason Kelce about the Eagles’ culture change.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Nate Davis of USA Today already has predictions out. He’s got the Eagles going 11-5 and winning the NFC East:
Class of weak division. But can Nick Foles reproduce 2013 magic? DeSean Jackson’s speed will be missed.
Phil Sheridan of ESPN.com on what Jeremy Maclin‘s health scare Monday revealed about the Eagles:
The immediate reaction: that another injury to Maclin could be devastating because of his perceived status as the replacement for DeSean Jackson in Kelly’s scheme. But in reality, that is not the case and it never was. The Eagles will try to replace Jackson’s production with Darren Sproles, with draft picks Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, with second-year tight end Zach Ertz, with Arrelious Benn and, yes, with Maclin.
We catch up with one of the Eagles’ backup linemen and take a closer look at the running game.