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"Built for it": Texans teammates excited for DeMeco Ryans' chance

DeMeco Ryans' old teammates aren't surprised.

One week after his introductory press conference, the Texans head coach is busy assembling a staff of assistant coaches. The NFL Scouting Combine begins in less than three weeks, and free agency starts shortly after that.

Ryans' proverbial plate is full, but his former teammates are certain he's up for the challenge. Ryans, who was picked 33rd overall in the 2006 Draft out of Alabama, played linebacker in Houston for six seasons.

Chester Pitts was an original Texan. The offensive lineman appeared in every game from the inaugural one against the Cowboys in Week 1 of 2002, through the Week 2 matchup with the Titans in Nashville in 2009. He and Ryans were teammates for four years, and he has no doubts.

"When you hear the phrase 'built for it', that describes DeMeco," Pitts said.

Ryans takes over a squad that won just three games in 2022 but enters the 2023 offseason with 11 Draft picks this April and a surplus of salary cap space. Pitts was "exuberant" for his old friend's new opportunity and pointed to the attendance at last week's press conference as just one example why.

"It's a new energy," Pitts said. "It's a revived spirit. Look at how many people were in that doggone room. The last time that room was filled like that was my rookie year. We had 372 players on the roster because we were the expansion team and they allowed that many humans in the room."

Brian Cushing was the franchise's first round selection in 2009, and the linebacker did just like Ryans: won the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Cushing, like Pitts, saw days like this one coming for Ryans.

"It's kind of something we all envisioned," Cushing said. "But it happened pretty fast, and luckily it happened right back in the city that we all want him to coach."

Wide Receiver Andre Johnson, the only Texans player in the team's Ring of Honor, was also in the building last week for his friend's big day. He said Ryans has "always been my guy", and Johnson recognized his friend's leadership abilities in the early summer days of 2006.

"He always had that in him," Johnson said. "He was a great leader from the time he got here. He was very quiet at first, but once he found his way around and fit it in, he just took charge. He had to be the leader of our defense at a young age and very early in his career."

After that quiet period Johnson referenced, Ryans took charge as a leader by example, as well as a vocal one. So much so, Pitts explained, Texans coaches had to ask him to tone things down.

"(Former Texans linebacker) Kailee Wong came up to me four days into training camp practice and said 'This kid's going to be the guy,'" Pitts said. "He knew our plays and he had figured it out pretty quickly. 'Mec would literally call and say where the play was going to go if he heard any of our keywords, because he knew them so doggone well. It got to the point where the coach told him, 'Stop saying where the play is going to be, because nobody's going to know it like that.'"

Three seasons later, Ryans was entrenched as a team captain and leader of the defense. He took Cushing under his wing, and the duo proved to be a productive tandem for the Houston defense the next three seasons.

"He truly helped me tremendously," Cushing said. "I couldn't have picked a better veteran to come into a locker room with as a rookie."

Following his press conference, Ryans and his former teammates mingled together in the Texans locker room. The excitement and joy for their friend was unrestrained.

"H-Town get ready," Pitts said. "He's home. He's going to do it right."

Ryans and the Texans will begin the offseason conditioning program in early April at NRG Stadium.

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