No defensive player in the NFL played more snaps last year than DeMeco Ryans. No lineman, no D-back, no other linebacker.
His 1,156 plays represented 96 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps and was four more than Chad Greenway of the Vikings played.
That number is very high. And it has to come down, Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said Monday.
“We have to take reps off him,” Davis said. “He’s a warrior and he had way more reps than he should have.
“We want DeMeco for the long haul this season, and so many times when you overwork a veteran -- and he takes great care of his body -- but it’s a lot of games.”
Ryans averaged 72 snaps per game last season. Of the 45 snaps he didn’t play, 42 were at the end of blowouts -- 13 vs. the Bears, a 43-point win; nine vs. the Broncos, a 32-point loss; and 20 vs. the Raiders, a 29-point win.
Twelve times, including the playoff loss to the Saints, Ryans played every snap.
The only NFL players on the field last year more than Ryans were eight offensive linemen and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
But Ryans, a two-time Pro Bowler with the Texans, is an inside linebacker, the most physically demanding job on the field. He turns 30 next month, and with newcomers like Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll now in the secondary, Davis believes the Eagles are better equipped to spell Ryans this year on some passing downs.
“I think we have more depth than we had and more experience and more people who can play versatile roles in the defense,” Davis said. “I think it’ll help.”
Ryans said after a recent OTA practice that he wants to stay on the field in all situations, and he said there’s been no change in practice so far this offseason in his role.
“I’m a competitor,” Ryans said. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’m here to play. When it’s time to compete, it’s time to compete, but I think we’ll all help ourselves a lot defensively not by not playing more reps but by playing better, playing smarter.”
He joked with a reporter who asked him about reduced snaps, saying, “Trying to get me off the field?”
He added: “I guess that’s the question everybody wants to ask, but I’m still out here playing and giving the team what I have to go out and compete.”
Davis said he’s already spoken with Ryans about decreasing his snaps.
“Just [being] honest with him,” he said. “I’ve sat him down a couple times. DeMeco’s a great man, and I’ve said, ‘Look, I know you want to be out there every down, everybody does. But I’m telling you right now that I’m going to work to get some ways to give you some relief to have you with us in Week 15 and 16, and he’s great about it.
“He doesn’t want to come off. But neither does Connor [Barwin], neither does Trent [Cole]. None of them want to come off. But what we do as a team and collectively, when you’re honest and explain why it is you want to do what you do, they’re fine. They’re all team players.”
Ryans said head coach Chip Kelly’s sports science and emphasis on conditioning has made it possible for him to play an NFL-high 72 snaps per game without wearing down.
“It helps a lot,” Ryans said of the Eagles’ year-round workout regimen. “Being an older guy, you’re able to come out here day after day and play hard, practice hard, because we know we’re taking care of ourselves from a recovery standpoint.”
Even Davis conceded that Ryans’ play late last season showed no dropoff from early in the season.
He wants to make sure that happens again, with Ryans a year older.
“He had some big games late,” Davis said. “He was hitting people and covering. I don’t think it was any different.”