Will DeMeco Ryans Cure the Eagles’ Linebacker Curse?
DeMeco Ryans says he still goes generally undetected when walking the streets of Philly, the natives not yet familiar with his scent. But some have caught it, and rabid is the reaction. Any remaining anonymity can be viewed as a rapidly eroding luxury.
“One guy told me he was going to give me two games to prove myself,” Ryans says with a laugh. “He’s watched the highlights so he’s expecting big things, and after two games he says I should have proven myself. There are high expectations from the fans.”
To say the least.
Anyone who even casually follows the Eagles knows that linebacker has been a sore spot for much of the Andy Reid era. From Barry Gardner losing a foot race to Joe Jurevicius, to Casey Matthews getting burned by Brandon Jacobs, nothing has stuck in the craw of Eagles Nation quite like the blatant neglect of the position by management.
This is why so many were floored when the announcement came down back in March that the team had acquired Ryans from the Texans, taking on his $5.8 million salary in the process. The Eagles’ biggest hole was now filled by a two-time Pro Bowler with four 100-plus tackle seasons on his resume who was respectfully called “Cap” (short for captain) by his former teammates. Sure, he has an Achilles injury in his recent past, but man does this look like the end of a dark streak.
Simply put, not since Jeremiah Trotter has there been this much buzz and hope around an Eagles middle linebacker.
“I can’t imagine coming in with that type of pressure,” says Trotter. “I’m glad I was able to set the bar high. I remember when I got released in 2006, Takeo Spikes told me, ‘Man you couldn’t pay me to come in and wear your number or play middle linebacker.’ There was so much pressure to fill that position.”
Omar Gaither was the first thrown into the breach after Trotter but certainly not the last. Since just 2009, the Eagles have used nine different starting middle linebackers for at least one game.
Members of the Eagles brass have openly acknowledged in years past that linebacker is not a position high on their value chart—not that the fans needed any sort of confirmation. Last season’s debacle was enough to soften management’s stance, though, as they not only traded for Ryans but also took Cal’s Mychal Kendricks in the second round of this past April’s draft.
“I think they’re finally realizing in order to have a great defense they need great linebackers,” says Trotter, who was famously allowed to be signed by the Redskins after consecutive Pro Bowl seasons in Philadelphia.
Trotter did not want to compare himself and Ryans—there’s enough heat as is on the 27-year-old—but he did allow this: “He definitely has the ability to step in and do some great things.”
Ryans is already making an impression on his teammates. As Michael Vick was walking off the field following the Eagles’ first practice of the 2012 season on Tuesday, he passed by Ryans, who had stopped to speak with a reporter.
“I forgot that was you, Number 59,” said Vick. “You made it tough out there today.”
No more anonymity among his brethren. And soon, none in his new city.
“I’m not worried about it,” Ryans says, wearing a relaxed smile. “I’m just going to be myself and do what I do.”