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HOUSTON — Houston Texans middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans has assumed a pivotal dual role for his team as the NFL lockout stretches into its fourth month.
Ryans is one of the Texans’ player representatives, along with right tackle Eric Winston, responsible for keeping his teammates abreast of developments in the ongoing labor dispute.
And since coaches aren’t allowed to have contact with players for now, Ryans has undertaken the job of teaching new coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme to the defense — which ranked as one of the league’s worst in 2010.
“I’m just doing my part, man,” Ryans said with a smile.
Many of his teammates have come to Houston to do the same, with 35 players participating in a voluntary practice for about 80 minutes on Monday morning at Rice University.
Quarterback Matt Schaub, defensive end Mario Williams and linebacker Brian Cushing were among the starters who joined Ryans at the workout, the first of three this week. Draft picks Shiloh Keo, Brooks Reed and T.J. Yates also practiced.
Schaub led the players through a series of warm-up drills before the group split up, according to their positions. They mostly scrimmaged, without pads, for most of the last half of the practice.
“For us to be out here as a team, a group of guys choosing to be here, in the long-term will serve us good,” Schaub said.
Ryans is still recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon that sidelined him for the last 10 games of last season. He referred to a playbook during the practice, and repeated calls to ensure that the players understood.
“It’s important for us to get out here and get the guys some looks at our different offensive sets, and try to do our adjusting,” Ryans said. “I think we are getting more comfortable with the terminology that we’re using. The more reps you get, the better you get it.”
But as much benefit as the team workouts provide, Schaub concedes that every NFL team will need extended training camp with coaches to properly prepare for the season.
Ryans says he’s “encouraged” about what he believes are constructive meetings. But he offered no timeline for when he thought a new deal might be struck, only that he believes progress is being made toward ending the lockout that began March 12.
“It’s not about getting a deal done as quickly as possible,” Ryans said, “it’s about getting a fair deal done. Whenever that time comes, when a fair deal is on the table, that’s when it will get done. We’re not in a big panic to get something done, just for the sake of getting it done.”
Keo, a safety picked in the fifth round, says he’s trying to put the lockout out of his mind. He’s more concerned with learning the defense from Ryans and impressing his new teammates.
“I want to be updated on it every day, but I want to keep my head out of it,” Keo said. “When I come out here, I want to be focused on the drills, meeting the guys, getting to know them, and performing. I’m not here to just wait for the lockout to end. I’m here to get work done early.”
The Texans’ defense, particularly the secondary, needs as much practice as it can get, with or without coaches. Houston ranked last in pass defense last season (268 yards per game) and produced only 13 interceptions.
Kareem Jackson, often the scapegoat for Houston’s secondary issues last year, and fellow cornerback Glover Quin were both at Monday’s workout.
Quin will move to safety in Phillips’ defensive alignment. He said the team practices are crucial in helping the Texans learn the system.
“You kind of have to look at a playbook and say, ‘OK, I think this is what they (the coaches) kind of want us to do,” Quin said. “But it will also help us out, because when we do go in, when they make a call, we’ll kind of know exactly what we have to do. We just need to figure out the technique they want us to play in.
“But if they give us a normal call, it’s not like it’s a foreign language anymore,” Quin said. “We’ve had to teach ourselves. When you teach yourself, you pick up on it, you find ways that you can understand it, and when the coaches teach it, it just makes even more sense.”
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