A COME-FROM-BEHIND victory in Week 6 of the 2010 season normally would have prompted celebration from the Houston Texans, who advanced to 4-2 entering a bye week. Instead, there was devastation in the Reliant Stadium locker room. The Texans lost starting middle linebacker and defensive captain DeMeco Ryans for the season with a ruptured left Achilles' tendon and dropped eight of their final 10 games.
That was the last time Ryans played at an elite level.
Ryans, whom the Eagles introduced yesterday as their new middle linebacker, was acquired for a fourth-round pick and a swap of third-rounders on Tuesday. The two-time Pro Bowler appeared miscast in Houston, which transitioned from a 4-3 defensive alignment to a 3-4. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman cited the scheme change as the reason for Ryans' decline in production - he went from 123 combined tackles in 2009 to 64 in 2011.
"I was slow," Ryans said Wednesday. "It slowed me down there at the beginning of the year. But as the season went on, it continued to get better. Toward the end of the season, I was moving around feeling like myself again."
Dr. Brian Sennett, the chief of sports medicine for the University of Pennsylvania Health Systems, helped author a 2009 study on Achilles' tendon injuries in the NFL. The study concluded that "players generally took 9 to 12 months to return to play, and 32.3 percent of players never returned to play."
Sennett said in an interview Wednesday that 9 months is generally a good starting point, citing the timeline that Phillies slugger Ryan Howard is currently dealing with. The new Eagle linebacker's injury occurred in October 2010. He returned to training camp last August and played all 16 games, but it was clear he was not the same player.
In a Week 2 win over Miami, Ryans was credited with only one tackle for the first time in his career, whether it was as a three-star recruit at Lanier High School in Bessemer, Ala., the SEC defensive player of the year at Alabama or the defensive rookie of the year in the NFL.
Roseman said the front office spent significant time studying Achilles' injuries, recovery times and how performance is affected. The results entering a minicamp that will be 18 months since the injury are encouraging.
"You're always better the second year back," Roseman said. "You kind of get back to where you were the year before. We watched him on tape, and we saw throughout the year, he got better and better."
Roseman also noted that players recovering from injuries were compromised last season by the NFL's work stoppage, which prohibited them from rehabbing at the team's facility. In a typical offseason, Ryans could have had his recovery overseen by the team's training staff. That was not the case last year. Add in the fact that the Texans were changing defensive schemes, and it seems that the Eagles believe least season was not a valid measuring stick for Ryans' ability.
"He wasn't able to rehab like he normally would have," Roseman said. " And he comes into camp and he hasn't had the benefit of working with an NFL training staff. And now the season's right upon him. He's learning a new defense and that's a tough transition for him. When you watch him, he's still playing well. That's encouraging to us and you're just excited to get started with [Ryans]."
Roseman noted that the best Ryans played last season came during the postseason. And both Ryans and the Eagles believe that Ryans is now his old self - not damaged goods. Ryans said as much when he declared himself "100 percent."
"I think there is reason to be optimistic," Sennett said. "But if he comes out and doesn't look good to start off, then I think that optimism will fade very quickly and you'll say it's just the result of this guy not being as good."
Contact Zach Berman at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.