HOUSTON (AP) -DeMeco Ryans led the NFL in solo tackles on the way to capturing Defensive Rookie of the Year honors last season.
After that kind of debut, Houston Texans coaches can't wait to see what the middle linebacker does for his second act.
``Knowing the person that DeMeco is, I know his play is definitely going to pick up,'' linebackers coach Johnny Holland said. ``Last year was a learning year for him and he played off a lot of his natural instincts and athletic ability. The second time around I expect him to make more big plays and start out a lot faster than he did last year. I'm excited to see where he can go with this.''
Ryans had 126 solo tackles, his 156 total tackles were the most by a rookie in the last 20 years, and he had 3 1/2 sacks. But perhaps more impressive than those numbers was his ability to immediately become a leader on Houston's young defense.
It's an accomplishment he takes very seriously and is focused on building upon.
``I think I can do a better job of communicating with the guys, knowing that I'm the guy in the middle,'' he said. ``Guys are going to look up to me. I want to be a leader by example.''
Coach Gary Kubiak is looking for that leadership from the player he's always referred to as ``special'' because of his seamless transition from college to the NFL.
The Texans believe Ryans and last year's No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams are two rising stars they can build their defense around. They added to that core by picking 19-year-old defensive tackle Amobi Okoye with the 10th pick in the 2007 draft.
Ryans is one of the hardest workers on the team, but he's also one of its most easygoing. He seems to take everything in stride and never appeared overwhelmed last season when thrust into one of the most demanding roles on the defense. It's that attitude he hopes to impart to those new to the defense this season.
``Just take it easy and have fun,'' Ryans said he tells the rookies. ``You've been playing football all your life. So just keep doing what you did to get here and just keep getting better at it and you'll be fine.''
The coaching staff trusts Ryans so much he even called plays for the defense a few times last season.
``He should know the call we want and be able to run the defense,'' Holland said. ``He's headed in that direction. I'm looking forward to how far he can go.''
Ryans said he doesn't set individual goals, instead focusing on how his performance can help the team. He hopes the Texans can reach the playoffs for the first time this year.
Holland thinks the year of experience will help Ryans make more game-changing plays.
``I'd like to see DeMeco make more big plays,'' Holland said. ``Make more interceptions. We need some sacks, caused fumbles and touchdowns.''
Ryans had one sack, one forced fumble and one interception last season with no touchdowns.
Always confident, Ryans has no fear about a letdown after his breakout rookie season and believes he is a player who can lead Houston to success.
``(I'm) telling the guys to get on my back and let's ride it to the playoffs,'' he said.

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