Linebacker Watch: DeMeco Ryans Unfazed By Public Angst

You may be concerned, but DeMeco Ryans is not.

A good portion of the fan base is growing anxious about their new middle linebacker following a quiet preseason. After such a long wait for a bona fide MIKE to step in, there is trepidation that the two-time Pro Bowler might not live up to the billing.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” said Ryans of the doubters. “I don’t take it into consideration. My job is to be credible to my teammates, to go out and be accountable to what we’re doing in our defense and our scheme, and that’s the only thing that matters to me.

“I understand those expectations, but the expectations of ourselves are what weigh on me more than anything else. The expectation within the organization and the locker room is to get it done.”

Ryans has been asked about his Achilles, which he tore back in 2010, dozens of times since he was acquired from the Texans for a fourth-round pick and a swap of third-rounders back in March. He has maintained that it is not even remotely an issue any longer. His play appeared to pick up as preseason went along, and he ended with five tackles in three games.

“Everything counts now,” said Ryans. “When the season is over, I don’t remember anyone going back and talking about the preseason — you never hear anything else about it. It’s the flavor of the month, that’s what it was at the time. Football is back, it’s what people had to talk about. But the season is what they remember.”

* Mychal Kendricks said that nothing  changed for him at practice Monday. He is still running as the starting strongside linebacker and in the nickel. The expectations continue to rise for the second-round pick out of Cal as the regular season draws near. He is starting to be mentioned as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.

“The pressure is going to be there, it’s just whether you’re going to rise to the occasion or not,” said Kendricks, who has been a standout both in training camp and preseason games. He is prepared for things to ratchet up, and up, and up…

“It’s only going to kick up from here,” said Kendricks. “Then playoffs, I’m sure that’s another level. Then you’re talking about the Super Bowl, that’s something I can’t even fathom yet. So yeah, I’m expecting it to kick up a notch.”

Good to see the rookie thinking ahead.

* It was brought up Monday that Ryans’ first game in the NFL came against, interestingly enough, the Eagles back in 2006. He led his team with 13 tackles that day, and got right into the mix.

“On the first play I made the tackle on Brian Westbrook,” said Ryans. “I had a pretty good game. I always remember that first one. I think that was my first and only time playing against the Eagles.”

 

Linebacker Watch: Mychal Kendricks

Philadelphia Eagles LB Mychal KendricksTo date, Mychal Kendricks’ transition to the pros has been about as smooth as you can ask for. The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year out of Cal was plucked by the Eagles with the 46th overall pick in April’s draft, and immediately plugged in as the starting strongside linebacker. He stood out above all others at rookie camp, and kept that positive momentum rolling into the OTA’s and eventually training camp.

He looks comfortable, and it was no different Thursday night during his first taste of NFL action.

“It’s definitely faster, but I feel good,” said Kendricks. “It felt natural. It’s definitely faster [than college] but not as fast as I originally thought it was. I definitely feel like I can play in this league.”

Kendricks tied for a team-high with five tackles against the Steelers, two of them for a loss. As detailed by Sheil here, he forced Chris Rainey out of bounds for a 2-yard loss on a toss to the right, and also shut down a screen to Jonathan Dwyer and tackled him for a two-yard loss.  There were some imperfections along the way as well but Kendricks played fast and was generally decisive, which is what you’re looking for out of a rookie at this stage.

“Mychal, man, he’s relentless,” said defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. “You saw some of the big-play ability. It’s hard for the young guys because you’re really not game-planning (for preseason games). The day before we say, ‘O.K., here’s Pittsburgh, and we’re going to do these coverages.’ Especially for young guys like that it’s tough but he came through and made big plays.”

Kendricks says the biggest adjustment is learning to use his hands more to shed blockers. He also is getting used  to the play of the front-four. The D-Line aggressively penetrates the backfield in Jim Washburn’s system, often leaving the linebackers to deal offensive linemen bent on pushing the play forward.

“They release and there are linemen in my face, but you have to be able to adapt in this game,” he said.

Kendricks has been in out as the starting nickel linebacker. He was temporarily replaced by Jamar Chaney, but Chaney has since been hobbled by a hamstring injury. That put the rookie back in the mix alongside DeMeco Ryans.

“I have to be able to switch my brain on and off to nickel packages, going back to base and then back to nickel,” he said.

Improving linebacker play against the pass is critical for the Eagles. According to Football Outsiders, Eagles linebackers ranked 29th in the league in coverage against opposing running backs in 2011. The expectation is that the unit will improve across the board, and a lot of that responsibility falls on the 5-11, 239-pound rookie from Fresno.