NEW YORK -- DeMeco Ryans came into the NFL as Houston's
second choice to bolster its defense. He leaves his first pro year
as The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The linebacker, chosen at the top of the second round of last
April's draft -- 32 spots after the Texans made defensive end
Mario Williams the first overall selection -- was a runaway winner of the
award announced Wednesday. Ryans led the league in solo tackles
with 126, and his 156 total tackles were 33 more than the next-best
rookie, Detroit linebacker Ernie Sims.
In fact, no rookie in the last 20 years had more tackles than
Ryans, who was an All-American at Alabama in 2005. And Ryans had
more tackles than any of the other five linebackers who won the
award this decade, including Brian Urlacher and Shawne Merriman.
"It's always nice to be touted as one of the best and have a
big-time stat, but I credit that to the other 10 guys that are
around me on defense," Ryans said. "We wouldn't be talking about
me without those other 10 guys out there."
Well, we might be, because Ryans came into training camp, was
moved to the middle and almost immediately established himself as
the premier rookie defender on the roster. Better -- by far -- than
And Ryans never let up.
"It wasn't a big 'Wow' moment to me and there wasn't any
nervousness or anything like that. I was comfortable from the time
I began," he said. "Nothing really just shocked me going through
the year. I played in a big game atmosphere in college, so I was
used to that. I knew what the competition level would be like.
Nothing really surprised me."
The ease with which Ryans won the award might have been
surprising. He received 36 of the 50 votes by a nationwide panel of
sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL.
Gary Kubiak, in his first head coaching job, was concerned about
moving Ryans to the leadership role in the middle of a revamped
unit. He shouldn't have worried.
"I knew he was a special kid when he was here through OTAs and
stuff," Kubiak said of offseason workouts. "Just how smart he
was, and the coaches were coming back saying we hit it big on this
kid, he's going to be something.
"I think when you really knew he was fixing to be a great
player was about midway through training camp when we were in
meetings and having a problem at [middle] linebacker and started
having a conversation. We said: 'Let's just put the kid in there
and go.' You say, 'Well it's a lot to handle, it's the whole
defense. We may set him back. We don't want to do that.'
"We made that decision and within about a two-week period you
knew that he was going to be fine with it."
More than fine -- the best of all defensive rookies.
He is the first Texan to win an individual award since Houston
entered the league in 2002.
Merriman won the award last year.