Philadelphia Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans didn't just play more snaps than any other linebacker in the NFL last season. Ryans played more snaps than every player in the entire NFL save for three offensive lineman (Zane Beadles, Manuel Ramirez, Ryan Wendell) and one quarterback (Tom Brady). You would think Ryans, who will turn 30 in July, would have felt drained by playing those extra repetitions. But he didn't.
"Yeah, I didn't even realize it," Ryans said with a smile during his Monday post-practice press conference "So when the stat came out I was surprised."
One thing Ryans is surprised by, however, are the questions the media have been asking him about taking a lesser role in the Eagles defense this year. Ryans doesn't seem to know where this idea is coming from.
"Yeah, I am [surprised]. I don't know," Ryans said with a laugh and a grin. "I guess that's the question this year, OK. That's the question everyone wants to ask, but I'm still out here playing my hardest, giving the team what I have... to go out and compete. So, surprised at the questions, but hey, that's what it is."
At one point during Ryans' press conference, one reporter asked if there were any specific defensive packages where Ryans wasn't part of the formation. "You trying to get me off the field?" he quipped.
The veteran linebacker is entering his third season with the Eagles. It will be Ryans' second year as an inside linebacker in the Eagles' 3-4 defensive scheme. As it stands, the 2014 season looks like it could be another big workload. Largely considered as the quarterback of the defense, it's hard for defensive coordinator Bill Davis to get his centerpiece off the field.
The downfall to the Eagles' quick-strike offense, combined with the defensive "bend but don't break" mentality, is that it means the defense has to play a lot of snaps. What makes matters even more difficult is when the defense can't get off the field. Philadelphia allowed opposing offenses to convert on third down at a rate of 40.3%, which ranked 9th worst in the NFL.
Ryans knows getting off the field sooner is one way to cut down on his snaps. "I think we'll all help ourselves a lot defensively by not playing more reps by playing better, playing smarter."
While Ryans' future with the team beyond the 2014 season is in question, it's clear he's still the guy in the middle of the defense for now.