DeMeco Ryans is revamping the Texans’ defense, one piece at a time

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HOUSTON — DeMeco Ryans knows what a good defense is. That’s a big reason the Houston Texans hired him, with CEO Cal McNair specifically praising Ryans for “constantly innovating [ing] his defensive scheme.”

Ryans, the NFL’s 2006 Defensive Rookie of the Year, served as the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers last season. Under Ryans, the 49ers’ defense limited its opponents to 77.7 rushing yards per game, the lowest in the league, and finished first overall in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.

Meanwhile, the Texans’ defense was lost in 2022, finishing 22nd in DVOA and allowing the most rushing yards in the NFL.

But under Ryans’s guidance, the Texans have a refreshed feel to them this summer. While C.J. Stroud will look to settle Houston’s quarterback search, defensive reinforcements have arrived as well.

The Texans drafted Alabama defensive end Will Anderson Jr. right after Stroud with the No. 3 overall draft pick this past spring. The two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year is currently listed as the Texans’ first-string defensive end for Thursday’s preseason game against the Patriots.

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His explosiveness seems to have translated well to the NFL so far. During a play in Tuesday’s practice, Anderson managed to wrangle free from offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil to get to running back Dameon Pierce in the backfield.

Ryans has also brought in veteran defenders to fortify the Texans’ defense. Former Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins signed a one-year deal with Houston this offseason.

“Sheldon has been in this system for a while, so he does a really good job of leading and teaching our younger guys, teaching them the nuances of the technique and how it works for him,” Ryans said. “So, he’s been an excellent acquisition for us, and I’m very pleased with adding him to our team. He’s going to be a big-time help for us.”

Rankins sees the value of his head coach’s defensive scheme, but ultimately the prospect of working with Ryans himself drew him to Houston.

“I know a lot of people who know DeMeco personally and vouch for the type of person he is, the leader he is,” Rankins said Monday. “So to be able to come down here and be a part of something special, it was a no-brainer.”

Will Anderson, the other top-three pick of the Texans this past spring, is hoping to improve what was a subpar Houston defense in 2022. (Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports)
Will Anderson Jr., the other top-three pick of the Texans this past spring, is hoping to improve what was a subpar Houston defense in 2022. (Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

The defensive players who slogged through last season are soaking up every bit of information that they’ve gotten from Ryans.

“It’s probably the best situation you could ask for,” linebacker Christian Harris said last week. “I try to listen to every single thing he tells me during practice and meetings. I try to write it down and apply it as much as I can.”

Harris logged 74 total tackles in his rookie campaign, but he’s looking to make a bigger impact on the team. And having Ryans’s lead should expedite Harris’ improvement.

The second-year defender had a highlight-worthy play in Tuesday’s practice, swatting away one of Stroud’s throws to tight end Dalton Schultz.

Although the Texans’ defense has to prove it during the regular season, Houston seems to be taking steps in the right direction. Hiring a defensive-minded head coach? Check. Trading up to get a generational defensive player like Anderson? Check. Signing vets who are proven defenders? Check.

“We’re gonna play with enthusiasm,” Ryans said. “We’re gonna be excited when our brother makes a play, and that’s what I want to see every single time on the field.”

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