HOUSTON (AP) _ DeMeco Ryans thought he'd never get a handle on the defense when he arrived at Houston Texans training camp last year as a rookie.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
The linebacker made 13 tackles in his first game and never slowed down on his way to amassing a league-leading 126 solo tackles to earn Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Now the Texans can't wait to see what he'll do next.
``I feel a lot more comfortable now,'' he said. ``In year one my head was spinning coming in. It was a lot tougher last year, but now I know the defense and I'm familiar with it so it's a lot easier.''
His progress last season was helped by hours upon hours watching film. Ryans and fellow linebacker Morlon Greenwood would routinely be the last players in the stadium, staying hours after the others to pick apart offenses.
But his incessant film-watching wasn't always purely for the good of the team. Sometimes it just seemed more productive than the alternative.
``You leave here at 5 p.m. and get stuck in traffic, so you might as well be watching film,'' he joked.
So now that he has what he calls a ``great understanding of the defense,'' will he take a break from the film room?
``You can't study your opponent too much,'' he said. ``(If) you know what they're doing, knowing the ins and outs will give you the edge come Sunday when it's time to play. So I'll never stop doing that.''
That attitude is one of many reasons why the Texans love Ryans.
``He loves football,'' coach Gary Kubiak said. ``He's a gym rat. He comes out here and goes all day and he loves being around this complex. You can't substitute that. He doesn't want to go away. This is what he enjoys, and it shows.''
The 6-foot-1, 239-pound player was deemed too small to make an impact in the NFL in the days leading up to the draft. The Texans didn't agree and chose him with the first pick in the second round.
It quickly became clear that the Texans made a good decision.
Along with leading the team in tackles from the first game, the player who turned 23 on Saturday, established himself as a leader on the defense. He's looking to improve in that area this season.
``I think for myself I just want to become a better leader and a better communicator for my defense,'' he said. ``Just be leading the bunch.''
As for how he was able to come in as a rookie and earn enough respect that veterans would listen to him, he's really not sure.
``It just comes naturally,'' he said. ``It's not really something you have to think about as much. You just go out and get the guys up and going.''
And though they play different positions, Ryans said he's talked to first-round pick Amobi Okoye about how he can help the defensive tackle reach his goal of bringing the Defensive Rookie of the Year award back to Houston.
``I'll help him out in any way I can,'' Ryans said. ``I know he's going to go out there and make plays and be a great player for us. I just tell him to keep doing what you're doing and get better every day.''
Notes: Fullback Jameel Cook and left tackle Charles Spencer were placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list on Saturday. Cook is recovering from a knee injury he suffered in November. Spencer, a third-round pick in last year's draft, has been out since breaking his leg in Week 2 of last season. ... Also on Saturday, Houston signed free agent tackle Kevin Barry and released rookie tackle Tavo Tupola. Barry, who has appeared in 59 games with eight starts in his career, missed the 2006 season with a quadriceps injury.