HONOLULU – Before Sunday's Pro Bowl game, linebacker DeMeco Ryans sat in the locker room of Aloha Stadium, listening to music with his eyes closed.
Visualizing each play has become a pregame ritual for the second-year pro, and Ryans wasn't about to change his routine before his first all-star start.
Over the last two seasons, Ryans led all NFL defenders with 283 total tackles and 224 solo stops, averaging 8.8 total tackles per game. Still, in his Pro Bowl debut, Ryans believed he needed to prove that he belonged with the NFL elite.
As a starter for the AFC squad, he did just that.
In the first quarter, Ryans tipped the ball on a play-action pass intended for Arizona wideout Larry Fitzgerald. Several plays later, Ryans tipped a throw from quarterback Tony Romo, which resulted in an incomplete pass.
Despite sharing playing time with 12-year veteran Ray Lewis, Ryans finished with three passes defensed and one forced fumble.
It was a storybook ending to Ryans' week in paradise.
"It's been a great experience," Ryans said. "It's been what I expected. All the guys here are great guys to be around and hang out with. Everyone is friendly and nice. It's just always good to come to beautiful Hawaii and take this atmosphere in."
Ryans, the lone Texan named to the Pro Bowl, also took time to get to know players like Seattle's Lofa Tatupu, San Diego's Shawne Merriman and Baltimore's Lewis, a nine-time Pro Bowler.
Lewis, in effect, passed along the inside-linebacking torch to Ryans, who started in front of the veteran.
"Ray already came to me and said, 'Hey youngster, you got it, do this, do that,'" Ryans said.
"When we actually went out to the practice field and actually just seeing all of the top guys - seeing all those guys out there and working together - that was my eye-opening moment. Right when I stepped out onto the practice field, just to be working with all the big-name guys at every position."
Ryans also took time to enjoy the picturesque surroundings, inviting his family and Houston teammates Charlie Anderson, Zac Diles, Danny Clark and linebackers coach Johnny Holland to join him for a week of sightseeing and poolside relaxation.
"All of those guys came out to support me out here," Ryans said. "It's great to have my teammates out here with me in Hawaii."
Now that the sun has set on the all-star week, Ryans is looking ahead to the Texans' 2008 season. Finishing with the best record in Texans' history at 8-8 marked the point of no return for the linebacker.
"We're not looking back to being the old Texans," Ryans said. "It's a new team. We have to be recognized around the league. We don't get a lot of publicity and stuff like that because we're not winning. So I tell guys, 'You want to be on SportsCenter? You want to be on NFL Network making things happen? We have to go out and win some games, then that's definitely going to turn things around.'"
Ryans said that going to Indianapolis and beating the Colts, last year's winner of the AFC South, is the Texans benchmark for success.
"They've had our number," Ryans said. "In the history of playing the Colts, the Texans have only beaten them once and that was in '06.
"You have to beat the team that's on top. You have to knock them off, so if we find a way to beat the Colts, and beat them at home and at their place, it's going to be a start of a new Texans."
Ryans, who has recovered from knee and ankle injuries, won't have to wait long before his Houston teammates are back at work. Offseason workouts start the first week of April; meanwhile, the Texans' front office is beginning to make free agency and draft decisions.
"I'm feeling good going into next year," Ryans said. "The knee is fine. The ankle is good. I just needed a little time off. I got that and I'm ready to roll."