Mufasa returns: To surprise of no one, DeMeco Ryans is now a coach

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Mufasa returns: To surprise of no one, DeMeco Ryans is now a coach

In the spring of 2011, during the middle of the NFL lockout, DeMeco Ryans would spend his mornings in Birmingham, Alabama, rehabbing his ruptured left Achilles tendon. 

And every afternoon he'd make the 20-minute drive that eventually took him to his next profession. 

That spring, as Ryans rehabbed away from the Texans' facility because of the lockout, he took a position as the fill-in defensive coordinator at his alma mater, Bessemer City High School. Every afternoon, after his workout was over, he'd make the short drive to Bessemer and help coach the Tigers, who were led by his former University of Alabama teammate Dennis Alexander. That spring, the Tigers played just one game and one inter-squad scrimmage. But Ryans was hooked. 

"That was the first real taste," Ryans said to NBC Sports Philadelphia this week.  

Alexander, now an assistant coach at East Central Community College in Mississippi, said this week in a phone interview that it was "kind of crazy" that he happened to become the head coach of his college teammate's former high school. And he was happy to have him with his program. The kids naturally gravitated toward Ryans that spring. 

"You could tell back then that he had a football mind," said Alexander, who remembered Ryans as the freshman who came in and played immediately for the Crimson Tide in 2002. "He was athletic but he also knew all the X's and O's and he was smart." 

The lockout ended in July and Ryans returned to the NFL field. He played one more season in Houston before he was traded to Philadelphia, where he became an integral part of the team, a favorite of fans, and one of the most respected players to come through the franchise in decades. 

This weekend, Ryans will return to Philadelphia as a defensive quality control coach with the 49ers under first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan. 

Absolutely none of his former teammates still on the Eagles' roster are surprised about Ryans' new profession. 

"There's nothing but great things to say about DeMeco," Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox said. "He really just helped me become the person that I am. When he was here, he was one of those guys I could go to and talk about anything. It don't even matter if it was about something simple because he just made you feel better afterward. I thought, shoot, DeMeco could probably go back to Alabama and be the AD. That's how much weight his name carried. I don't think anybody would have anything bad to say about him."

What made Cox think Ryans could become a coach? 

"The way he looked at the game, the way he studied it, the way he simplifies it," he answered. "He makes it so simple. He always tells you 'the harder you make things, the harder they are.' If you find ways to simplify and figure out the best way to look at it, then it will be that way." 

Linebacker Najee Goode credits Ryans for much of his improvement in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Goode still remembers sitting in meeting rooms with Ryans, who would have answers to all the coaches' questions. He said Ryans' daily routine — he was a creature of habit — was to go back and do the same things three or four times. 

Of course, Goode said Ryans reminded him of a coach back then. 

"That dude was huge for the city and huge for the team," Goode said. "It was just huge to learn from him."

Ryans — who was lovingly dubbed "Mufasa" by Chip Kelly — was certainly a favorite among his teammates and coaches in Philadelphia. When the Eagles released him in February 2016, they made sure to do it before the GM and head coach met with reporters at the combine. On the podium, Howie Roseman began with a heartfelt statement thanking Ryans for his time in Philly. 

Out of the NFL for the entire 2016 season, Ryans got his football fix from doing a weekly radio show in Houston with former NFL players Greg Koch and N.D. Kalu on SportsTalk 790. He also got to enjoy spending plenty of time with his family. 

But Ryans has always thought about the possibility of coaching, even dating back to his time at Alabama, where his teammates affectionately referred to him as "Coach." 

And when Kyle Shanahan took the head coaching job in San Francisco this year, he heard from Ryans, who told him he was interested in coaching. "That's all I needed to hear," Shanahan said. 

Shanahan was a wideouts coach with the Texans when Ryans was drafted in 2006, and he became the team's offensive coordinator by 2008. He was immediately impressed by Ryans, who came in and started on his way to being named Defensive Rookie of the Year. Shanahan was even more impressed by Ryans' work ethic and those same qualities that have led to his new career as a coach. 

"For me, with DeMeco, it was pretty easy," Shanahan said on a conference call with Philly reporters this week. "You watch him in football and you could see he would be successful in anything in life he chooses to do. I was just pumped he told me he wanted to be a coach." 

As a defensive quality control coach with the 49ers, Ryans spends his weeks breaking down upcoming opponents in the run game. He also helps the other coaches prepare for practice and of course, he assists with the linebackers in drills and in the meeting room. 

He's found he's able to relate to players because he's not far removed from playing himself. At 33 years old, he's around the same age as the most veteran players on the roster. The biggest thing he's learned so far is that every player doesn't do things the way he would and that's OK. 

The 49ers are a disappointing 0-7 so far this season, but Ryans has enjoyed his first NFL coaching job. 

Does he want to be a head coach one day? 

"Definitely. I definitely want to take it all the way," Ryans said. "I always look at it like anything you do you want to be the best at it. That's definitely a goal of mine." 

This Sunday, when Ryans returns to Philadelphia, he won't get to see one of his protégés, the Simba to his Mufasa. Maybe Jordan Hicks is following Ryans a little too closely. Hicks tore his right Achilles on Monday night, three years after tearing his left in college. Ryans tore his left in 2010 and his right with the Eagles in 2014. Ryans, who keeps up with Hicks and even attended his wedding in the summer, said he feels for his former teammate but expects him to make full recovery. 

Aside from Hicks, there are plenty of other Eagles who owe plenty to Ryans and who will be looking forward to seeing him on Sunday. 

"It's going to be great to be back in the Linc, seeing old friends, all the fans there," Ryans said. "I know the place will be rocking. Will always be a special place to me. I'm really thankful for how the fans accepted me when I got traded there in 2012. It's always a special place for me. I love Philly, love the people there in Philly and really looking forward to getting back." 

Eagles use dominant second half to blow out Cowboys

Eagles use dominant second half to blow out Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas — There was no fiery halftime speech. There were no lineup changes. There weren’t even any major adjustments. The Eagles went into the locker room Sunday night at halftime flat and rusty. They came out unstoppable.
“It shows we're resilient,” Carson Wentz said. “We knew coming into the locker room at halftime that we left a lot out there. We knew that we're much better than that and we had to go execute. It shows that we have a lot of believe in each other and we can get the job done.”
The Eagles couldn't do much right in the first half and couldn't do much wrong in the second half.
"We were positive," guard Stefen Wisniewski said after the Eagles had finished off a 37-9 destruction of the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium (see Roob's observations). "No one is going to get our heads down.
"We know we’ve got a lot of talent on this offense. It’s one of the best offenses in the league. Even if someone slows us down for a little while, we’re not going to panic. We’re just going to keep believing in what we do, keep swinging, just keep believing it’s going to work and it did.” 
First half: They scored seven points.
Second half: They scored 30 points.
First half: They gained 115 yards.
Second half: They gained 268 yards.
First half: Their running backs gained 25 yards
Second half: Their running backs gained 202 yards.
A different team.
“We just decided to run the ball,” Lane Johnson said.
“The first series (of the game), we ran the ball and got a touchdown. Then we got away from it a little bit. We came out the second half and ran the ball right at ‘em, and they didn’t have an answer.”
The Eagles outscored the Cowboys, 30-0, in the second half, turning a two-point deficit into their eighth consecutive win. At 9-1, the Eagles have not only the best record in the NFL but a four-game lead in the NFC East with six games to go.
This was the first time in franchise history the Eagles have scored 30 second-half points after going into halftime trailing. It’s only the fifth time they’ve scored seven or fewer first-half points and 30 or more second-half points (see breakdown).
“We were kind of a little bit asleep in the first half,” Jay Ajayi said. “We woke up in the second half, got to our run game and just dominated after that.”
The Eagles finished the first half with five straight drives that netted five yards or less. They opened the second half with touchdown drives of 75, 90 and 85 yards.
In the first half, the Eagles didn’t have a running play longer than seven yards. In the second half? Ajayi had a 71-yarder, LeGarrette Blount had a 30-yarder and Corey Clement had an 11-yarder for a TD.
The Eagles’ backs averaged 3.1 yards per carry before halftime and 8.4 after halftime.
“We just had to stay relaxed," Clement said. "We knew the game plan that was worked up by coach (Doug) Pederson was going eventually pan out."
Wentz didn’t have a huge day, but he didn’t need one (see report card). In the second half, he was 7 for 9 for 88 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and a couple two-point conversion passes.
“We were just off a little bit in the passing game (in the first half),” head coach Doug Pederson said. “You could see a little bit of the frustration with (Wentz). I just keep talking to him and saying, 'Hey we just have to keep with the game plan. Trust the game plan. Trust the guys. We'll get this thing fixed,' and (he) just did that.
“Just kept shooting. Kept dialing up throws. Wanted to get him on the edge a little bit, so we moved the pocket some. That also can help the quarterback get in a little bit of a rhythm but just stayed the course.”
How rare is it for the Cowboys to lead a game at halftime and then allow 30 or more second-half points? It's now happened four times in franchise history.
The last time the Cowboys were shut out for a second half while allowing 30 or more points? It was 1962.
“The biggest thing was just staying with the game plan,” Wentz said. “They made plays and we didn't later in that first half. We just had to stay with what we knew what we could do. Execute better and stay out of some of those 3rd-and-long situations."
Maybe it had something to do with the bye week. The Eagles sure opened the game like a team that hadn't played in two weeks.
"I hate using the term rusty, but we weren't playing up to our ability in the first half," Johnson said. "Came back in the second half and just dominated."

Kamu Grugier-Hill proves everyone wrong as … Eagles' kicker

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Kamu Grugier-Hill proves everyone wrong as … Eagles' kicker

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Kamu Grugier-Hill's career as an NFL kicker got off to a rather inauspicious start. 

After Jake Elliott left the game with a concussion, the linebacker began to warm up his right leg on the Eagles' sideline in the first half of the 37-9 win over the Cowboys (see breakdown)

His first kick sailed wide right, missing the net and soaring into the stands. 

"Oh yeah," fellow linebacker Najee Goode said with a smile. "He definitely hit somebody. He hit a fan and the fan stood up."

Before that practice kick, punter Donnie Jones offered to move the net closer to Grugier-Hill, but the emergency kicker declined. 

That was a mistake. 

"I was like, 'Oh this is going to be a little rough,'" Grugier-Hill said about that miss. "After that, I kind of got a hold of it."

After that first bad attempt, Grugier-Hill settled down and actually had a decent showing as a kicker (see Roob's observations). He practiced some in the dark during a Jerry Jones ceremony at halftime. 

He didn't attempt any field goals or extra points, but he did kick off after four touchdowns and even got a touchback on one of them. 

Grugier-Hill, 23, practiced kicking just one time this season. Chris Maragos had been the Eagles' emergency kicker until he went down for the season with a knee injury. Fipp made Grugier-Hill practice it once. 

Despite practice time, Grugier-Hill was confident in his kicking abilities. He played soccer through sophomore year in high school and said he was an All-Conference and second-team All-State punter in high school in Hawaii. 

"I knew he could kick," cornerback Jalen Mills said. "We call him the Flying Hawaiian. He can do it all."

The Eagles were able to joke about Grugier-Hill's kicking prowess in the winning locker room, but for a while, they were in a precarious situation. 

Coming out after halftime, they were trailing 9-7 and had to play the rest of what looked like a close game without a kicker. 

Goode said it was obviously a blow, but noted the Eagles' offense was able to help out because they can put up points (see report card)

It did change the game because the Eagles didn't try any field goals after Elliott left the game and they went for two on all four of their second-half touchdowns. They converted on three of four. 

"I don't even know if everybody on offense knew right away," Carson Wentz said. "I was in the know, but I don't even think everyone knew. It is what it is. We executed I thought pretty well on those two-point plays. That's why you have a lot of those plays dialed up. You don't think too much about it." 

While the Eagles didn't announce when Elliott suffered his concussion, it's likely it happened on the opening kickoff. Return man Ryan Switzer took the kickoff 61 yards, but Elliott was there to greet him on the sideline to help prevent a touchdown. It looked like Elliott took a shot to the head. 

He continued to play, but after missing a 34-yard attempt was taken inside to get checked out. 

After Elliott went inside, Grugier-Hill began to practice kicking. It was an unusual situation for him, but he claimed he wasn't nervous. 

"Everyone expected me to do bad anyways," he said, "so I [didn't] have anything to lose."