Ryans likely won't play much vs. Steelers

PHILADELPHIA -- When the Philadelphia Eagles play the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, it will likely be the final significant work for most of the starters on offense and defense. The fourth and final preseason game will be about making final evaluations on the 53-man roster.

But one starter who probably won’t get a lot of work on Thursday is starting inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans. The 30-year-old Ryans is the Eagles' signal-caller on defense. He calls the audibles.

Since being acquired in a trade with Houston in 2012, Ryans has started all 32 games for the Eagles. Last season, he posted double-digit tackles in 11 of 17 games, including in the Eagles' playoff loss to New Orleans in a game where his interception of Drew Brees set up a Philadelphia touchdown. His 177 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions last season were all career highs.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly called Ryans a “tremendous football player (with) tremendous instincts." He called Ryans “the quarterback of our defense.”

Ryans is so valuable to the Eagles' young defense that Kelly does not want to risk him getting injured in a relatively meaningless preseason game.

“I think we feel very, very comfortable in terms of what DeMeco does,” Kelly said. “That’s why he didn’t play a ton in the first preseason game against the Patriots because I think we know what we have in DeMeco, and we need him.

“The big thing is, who else do we have at that position, and that is where that depth at inside linebacker is a key situation that we’ll continue to look at in these last two preseason games.”