- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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I gathered a lot of notes, information and interviews in my trips to the NFC East's four training camps over the past few weeks, and not everything can fit into the "Camp Confidential." So, periodically, I will go through my notes from the camps and see if I can come up with any interesting posts for you guys on those specific teams. Due to the extenuating circumstances of last week at Eagles camp, this effort has been delayed. But I haven't forgotten you, my Eagles fans, and I do have a few things left in the notebook from my time at Lehigh. I hope you enjoy.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- The question many Philadelphia Eagles fans and observers have had about DeMeco Ryans (other than, "Why did the Texans give him up for so little?") is whether he'd be able to play all three downs at middle linebacker. Ryans came off the field in the Texans' nickel defense last year, and he's a year removed from a serious injury, so people have wondered.
Well, Ryans was a three-down linebacker when he was in the game Thursday against Pittsburgh, and neither he nor the Eagles have been wondering whether he can handle it. He was a three-down 4-3 middle linebacker before his 2010 Achilles injury, and the plan is for him to be just that in Philadelphia.
"It's good to be back in the 4-3," Ryans told me after a recent practice. "The 3-4 wasn't something I couldn't handle. I think I played well in the 3-4, and we had a good defense there. But it's cool being back in the 4-3. It's comfortable."
Ryans has looked comfortable on the field in practice, identifying offensive formations and calling them out for the defensive linemen and his fellow linebackers to hear. He played fairly well in the preseason opener against the Steelers, helping out on a couple of tackles but missing a key one on running back Jonathan Dwyer after forcing him outside. But one of the big reasons the Eagles brought him in was to improve their communication on defense with a seasoned leader in the middle. GM Howie Roseman said the Eagles identified Ryans as a potentially available guy because Houston had undergone a defensive scheme change and was going to have salary cap issues, but he said his conversations with Houston GM Rick Smith fortified his opinion of Ryans as the answer to the Eagles' problems.
"Rick told me in our first conversation, 'My owner calls him "Cap." He considers him the captain of our team,'" Roseman said. "So we just felt like it was very important that we get the quarterback for our defense, that we had somebody that was able to take control and calm things down."
Part of Ryans' challenge is getting used to playing linebacker behind the Eagles' Wide 9 defensive line arrangement, which leans on the linebackers to take responsibility for gaps and control the opposing running game. Ryans said the Wide 9 isn't completely unfamiliar to him, but that it does require some practice.
"When you're in the Wide, sometimes you can get an offensive lineman up on you quicker, versus the 3-4 under front we played in Houston," Ryans said. Sometimes the 4-3, with the guys being wide, the tight ends will have free releases up the field. So you have to be cognizant of those guys getting up on you a lot faster than they would if the end was in tight. Once you recognize the formation and see how they're set up, depending on where the end is playing, you have to kind of understand how that tight end is going to release. And with the end being out wide, the tight end definitely can't go wide. He has to come up and inside on you, and most of the time he has free release."
Ryans understands the concepts and his responsibility within them. His job now is to practice so that they become second-nature, and to work with the younger linebackers on either side of him -- guys like Mychal Kendricks, Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews -- to help make it second-nature to them.
"He's a savvy vet," cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said of Ryans. "He's so even keel -- never gets too up, never gets too down. And when he speaks, everybody listens. He's in the perfect position. The MIKE linebacker is where I think he's supposed to be. And he's a run stuffer who can also play in coverage, so it's good having him."
It might have been the greatest need position for the Eagles to fill this offseason, and they believe they found the perfect guy to fill it.