PHILADELPHIA – Many years ago, Mufasa prowled the practice fields for the Eagles, leading them into battle for four seasons and 54 games.
Mufasa retired six years ago, but he hasn’t left the game. He is now the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, who will be in Philadelphia on Sunday for the Eagles’ home opener.
Presumably, Mufasa is a retired nickname now, too. It was one former Eagles coach Chip Kelly gave DeMeco Ryans when Ryans arrived as one of Kelly’s first free agents in 2012, after six seasons with the Houston Texans.
“DeMeco is just the epitome of a leader, team captain, extremely smart guy,” said Eagles center Jason Kelce on Thursday. “Not surprised at all he’s climbed the coaching ranks as quickly as he has. He was a phenomenal player here.
'The quarterback of Billy Davis’s defenses when he was here with Chip. Phenomenal player, really, really smart. I’m sure he’s going to be great as a defensive coordinator.”
Ryans is in his first season as the 49ers’ DC, earning the promotion after three years as the inside linebackers coach when Robert Saleh left to become the head coach of the New York Jets.
Eagles QB Jalen Hurts knew Ryans as a kid growing up in Houston when Ryans played for the Texans.
“I watched him play growing up,” said Hurts. “My godfather used to work for the Texans. I’d go to practice often and watch the Texans practice. I watched them a good bit...I was excited to talk to all the players as a kid. I don’t know if he remembers, though.”
Ryans was the defensive rookie of the year in 2006 and a two-time Pro Bowl player. He had 970 tackles in his career, with 13.5 sacks, 10 fumble recoveries, and seven interceptions.
One of the storylines this week has been about defending the 49ers’ two-quarterback system.
Coach Kyle Shanahan used rookie Trey Lance for just four snaps in last week’s 41-33 win over the Detroit Lions, but Lance threw a touchdown pass, the only pass he threw in the game.
Jimmy Garoppolo was the main threat, completing 17 of 25 passes for 314 yards and a touchdown to finish with a passer rating of 124.2.
“There aren’t too many reps with Trey, except for preseason,” said CB Darius Slay. “Great guy, strong arm, very talented. Garoppolo, he’s been doing this a long time in the league. Smart guy, making smart decisions, doing what he does best – getting the ball out of his hands and making plays.”
Slay said he has played against two quarterbacks in a game during his career and isn’t too concerned about the changeup.
“We can get the job done,” he said. “We’ve been there before. I’ve played against two quarterbacks before, so my opinion right now is like a younger Kaepernick and an older Alex Smith back when they had them at the same time in San Fran. That’s what it looks like to me.”
KERRYON IN SF
With RB Raheem Mostert out for a while with a knee injury, San Francisco signed Kerryon Johnson, who spent most of the summer with the Eagles before being waived.
“My experience with that is he doesn't know what the game plan is this week, right?” said head coach Nick Sirianni. “He can go in there with a lot of different information but that's a lot of information to dissect. I know any time we've been in that scenario, and you start to talk to the guy about, ‘What do you do here, what do you do here,’ it becomes too much.
“It can become too much information. So, we'll have a couple things that we need to do most definitely, but we can't overreact to that either.”
KITTLE AND BITS
Defending tight end George Kittle will go a long way in determining whether the Eagles win or lose their home opener.
Last year, the Eagles didn’t do a very good job with that. Kittle had 15 catches on 15 targets for 183 yards and a touchdown. Somehow, the Eagles still won, 25-20, on Oct. 4.
If that happens again, the result may turn out differently.
“Oooooh, it’s hard,” said Slay about defending Kittle. “It’ll be a damn sure team effort. As a collective, we gotta attack him and not let him attack us because he’s great. Probably the best tight end in the run after the catch in the league.”
The 49ers’ potent run game is always a threat no matter who the running back is. Elijah Mitchell, a rookie sixth-round pick from Louisiana, led the way on the ground last week with 104 yards.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.