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Ryans gearing up for Pro Bowl


Ryans is excited to play with the rest of the NFL's top players in Honolulu in February.

There are few players around Reliant Stadium these days.

In the wake of the season finale, lunch hours in the team cafeteria are filled with coaches, front office staff, business operations types and temporary interns.

DeMeco Ryans sticks out like a sore thumb.

While most of his teammates are off vacationing and resting their beat-up bodies in exotic locales, the Texans' middle linebacker has been at the stadium several days a week, receiving treatment on his knee and working out to stay in top physical form for his first career Pro Bowl on Feb. 10.

Most of the other players seen around the stadium are on injured reserve, furiously rehabbing their respective ailments in time for organized team activities in a few months. Ryans has a more immediate concern on his mind.

"I'm running and trying to stay in shape so that I don't look bad out there," said the second-year player out of Alabama, who will start for the AFC squad in pro football's all-star game in Honolulu.

Hyperbole not needed, Ryans has been the most productive linebacker in the league in his first two seasons. No player has equaled his 283 tackles and 224 solo stops in that span.

{QUOTE}Ryans led the Texans with 127 tackles in 2007, second-best in the AFC and seventh in the NFL, despite playing the final three games with an injured knee. His 98 solo stops also were second in the AFC. He added two sacks, one interception, seven passes defensed, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries with a defensive touchdown.

The first pick of the second round in the 2006 draft, he was the 2006 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after racking up 156 tackles and a league-high 126 solo stops, the most by a rookie in 20 seasons.

"I thought he very much deserved to be in the Pro Bowl last year," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "He got passed by, but you can tell the respect factor that came back this year.

"It's very important to him to play in that game. It's very important to our team that he plays in that game."

Ryans has raked in a great deal of awards in his first two seasons as a pro, but if you ask him, you just might get the sense that he's most excited about the honor of playing in Hawaii.

"It feels good to be playing with the best of the best," he said. "To know that you are one of those guys is kind of like – I'm not going to be star-struck or anything – (but) it's going to be an amazing experience getting to play with guys like Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, all those guys. It's going to be a cool experience."

After not making the Pro Bowl last season despite his incredible rookie year, the ever-humble Ryans was surprised to be named a starter his second time around.

"You always think about just getting voted into the Pro Bowl, but to actually be a starter – I wasn't thinking I would be a starter, and it was surprising to me in a sense," he said. "It's the best way to go."

Ryans has undergone a hectic week-and-a-half of booking flights and other travel arrangements for his excited family members from tiny Bessemer, Ala. While his mother, Martha, traveled to Hawaii a few years ago to watch her son's Crimson Tide take on the Hawaii Warriors, Ryans says much of his family has never been to the Aloha State.

When he returns from the Pro Bowl, Ryans looks forward to improving an increasingly formidable young Texans' defense. He and defensive end Mario Williams both were named to the 2007 AP second-team All-Pro squad.

"I'm excited and eager to see how guys are going to grow, how they're going to evolve into great players," he said. "Guys are so young with Mario, myself, Amobi (Okoye), Dunta (Robinson). With the nucleus of our defense being so young, guys have a lot of learning to do, a lot of growing to do. It's going to be exciting to watch."

The Texans learned a great deal about perseverance in dealing with massive injuries this season. Ryans hopes that lesson will help take his much-improved team to the playoffs next year.

If he has another Pro Bowl and All-Pro season, Ryans will play a big part in leading the Texans to that hallowed ground.

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