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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Cole Thompson

DeMeco Ryans excited to reunite with new Texans LB Azeez Al-Shaair

If anyone knows what new Houston Texans linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair provides for a defense, it’s DeMeco Ryans. He spent four seasons watching him blossom from an undrafted free agent to one of the best sub-package linebackers while in San Francisco.

Ryans, hired back to the team that drafted him last offseason, nearly was able to convince Al-Shaair to follow him to Houston. Both sides showed mutual interest, but couldn’t reach a middle ground on an annual salary.

Al-Shaair eventually left the 49ers, inking a one-year, $5 million deal with the Tenessee Titans. He proved to be a consistent open-field tackler in his first full year as a starter, totaling the fifth-most stops at 163.

A year later, Al-Shaair officially is reunited with Ryans in Houston, ready to take control of the AFC and compete for championships well past 2024.

“By adding Azeez to our team, we’re getting a tenacious player,” Ryans said Monday at the start of voluntary workouts. “He plays with relentless passion and energy.”

Al-Shaair, 26, inked a three-year deal worth $34 million this offseason after a dominating in Nashville. Not only did the former Florida Atlantic star learn from the teachings of a former Pro Bowl linebacker in Ryans, but also played behind All-Pro Fred Warner and Pro Bowler Dre Greenlaw out west.

Ryans, one of the Texans’ all-time leading tacklers during his playing days, came away impressed with Al-Shaair’s transition to handling a heavier workload. During his time with the 49ers, Al-Shaair played roughly 45% of snaps.

With Tennessee, he rarely came off the field, playing 96% of the team’s defensive reps.

“He showed he was capable of running the show,” Ryans said. “He showed he was able to stay healthy throughout the entire year. He’s durable. He was a playmaker. He was physical. He was the leader of that defense.”

Houston, fresh off its first winning season in four years, has multiple leaders on a revamped defense under Ryans’ teaching, headlined by Defensive Rookie the Year Will Anderson Jr. Linebacker Christain Harris is coming off a promising second season. So is cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who totaled a team-leading five interceptions in 11 games.

The Texans also continued to build their trenches, inking Al-Shaair’s former Titans teammate Denico Autry and Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter to two-year contracts.

Al-Shaair should take over as the play-caller up the middle. His versatility in San Francisco backing up Warner and Greelaw puts him in line to play either role while receiving calls from the sidelines.

There’s a trust factor between Al-Shaair and Ryans. They know how each other operates and what works in building chemistry on the field. They nearly continued their success last season following three playoff berths, including a trip to the Super Bowl in 2019.

Ryans is looking to build off a promising first year in Houston. There’s an urgency to win now with Offensive Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud on a team-friendly contract. Adding Al-Shaair might not transcend the Texans’ defense to new heights, but it will stabilize the middle of the field in run support and man coverage.

Last season, Al-Shaair proved he’s capable of commanding the huddle on a rebuilding roster. He’ll now have the opportunity to do on a championship-caliber one.

“I’m excited to not only add Azeez as a player but to also add Azeez, the leader,” said Ryans. “He’s grown as a leader and I’m excited to work with him again.”

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