While DeMeco Ryans wheeled through the halls of the NovaCare Complex on a scooter last November, the linebacker sounded confident he would return in time for training camp. His future appeared uncertain because of the second ruptured right Achilles tendon in his career, but Ryans said he knew the recovery process and did not doubt the timetable.
The Eagles have had seven training camp practices, and Ryans has not missed one. He is nine months removed from the injury and is mixing in with the first-team defense and slowly working his way back to his old self. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Ryans "is ahead of schedule" for a player returning from a second Achilles tear.
"I've been managing it. It's gotten better every day," Ryans said. "I'm still doing extra stuff, coming in early."
He gauges his progress at the end of each day and each week. Ryans, 31, is one of the most respected players in the locker room because of his professionalism - coach Chip Kelly called him the Eagles' "Mufasa" - and he has lived up to that reputation with the recovery.
"He knows how to practice and still come back from an injury without going backwards with the injury, without having something else give on him," Davis said. "DeMeco is a pro all the way through and is taking strides ahead of where most people would be, but he still has a little ways to go."
Ryans was a limited participant in the spring and added full-team work during the summer. He said when he's on the field, he's "not thinking about my Achilles at all." It's on his mind before practice when he's stretching, running, and loosening his leg.
A big test will come Sunday when the Eagles host the Indianapolis Colts in the first preseason game. As confident as Ryans is in his recovery, he has only tested the leg in practice, a controlled setting. There is no tackling, he can be mindful of how much work he's doing, and he knows what to expect. Sunday will be different.
"Any time you're coming back from injury, you have to get in the game to see where you are," Ryans said. "Go to the ground, tackle somebody, stand up, make sure everything is still intact. And mentally, I think that's the last hurdle, going out and getting back in a game."
Ryans has rotated with Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso on the first-team snaps. Alonso has missed the last four practices with a concussion, so they have spent only three practices together.
The Eagles have not determined the starting inside linebackers, and it's likely they'll use all three during the season depending on situations and workloads.
They also have more depth than last year behind the top three. Alonso was the top offseason acquisition at the position, but they also added third-round pick Jordan Hicks and veteran Brad Jones. Najee Goode is returning from injury and Emmanuel Acho is back. That gives the Eagles five inside linebackers with starting experience - a major jump from 2014, when the Eagles did not add an inside linebacker during the offseason and needed to move outside linebackers just to have enough depth. Acho, who didn't make the roster during the first cut to 53, was starting by the end of the year.
"It's comforting to know that we have the quality of depth we have now," Ryans said. "That's something you don't find. . . . If somebody does unfortunately go down, you have to have guys who can step in and go in and get the job done."
If Ryans continues to progress, he could show that he deserves to be on the field and keep that depth behind him.
"I'm getting there, right where I need to be in my recovery process," Ryans said. "Getting better every day."