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Eagles prepare for life without Ryans, search for new leadership

DeMeco Ryans will play for the Eagles next year, as he is under contract through the Getty Images

Life in the NFL goes on.

This is a mantra the Eagles know all too well, and their latest lesson in the vulnerability of tackle football professionals was a hard one as the Birds lost their defensive leader DeMeco Ryans to a season ending ACL injury Sunday.

But from a depth chart perspective, it’s nothing new for the Eagles, who have now seen four inside linebackers miss time due to injuries.

“It’ll be similar to when Mychal Kendricks was out,” Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “The neat part of our inside backers, really within the scheme, is they’re kind of interchangeable, and [inside linebackers coach] Rick Minter does a great job of teaching the concepts of both.”

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The Eagles have been lucky to have linebackers who can play multiple positions, and with Kendricks healthy, the rest of the inside linebackers will just fall into place.

“We’ll have [Emmanuel] Acho and Casey [Matthews] handling first and second-down duties at the DeMeco spot instead of the Mychal spot,” Davis said. “They’re cross‑trained and they’ll be fine.”

The Eagles will be able to get competent athletes on the field Monday night against the Panthers, but there is one key element they won’t be able to replace — Ryan’s intangibles.

“You don’t replace the leadership,” Davis said, “You just don’t. Leadership is something that is earned over time. DeMeco has got a lot of pelts on the wall and he’s earned it. You saw the reaction from the Houston Texans. He’s just that kind of guy.”

One silver lining from Ryans’ brutal injury is the opportunity for first-round draft pick Marcus Smith III to contribute at a thin inside linebacker position.• When Smith has played, it’s been mostly from the outside position.

“The inside part is going to grow him,” Davis said, “and what we’re hoping is that the overall knowledge of the complete linebacker group, not just the outside, will help him grow eventually. But we definitely need him at the inside backer spot.”

 
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