"I was hoping to get up to 260 pounds," Ryan said. "Right after off-season, I just started eating and eating. Then I had to back off and not put on too much weight."
Ryan's dimensions appear perfectly suited for the new scheme. In a 4-3 alignment, the sophomore was too light for the defensive end position and too big for outside linebacker spot. In a 34 defense, Ryan can now find a home at the outside linebacker spot either rushing the passer or dropping back into coverage. At his Wednesday press conference, head coach Charlie Weis referenced Ryan as a player who really benefits from the defensive switch because of his size. Spring ball will be a crash course for the sophomore.
"So far it's going well," Ryan said of the transition. "It's a little different not having my hand on the ground. Each day, the goal is to try to get better.
"The biggest difference is more drops in pass coverage. You feel like a fish out of water. But each time you do it, it gets to be more comfortable. Working with Coach Brown and Coach Polian, they've been great. We've been working on my form and trying to get better each day."
On the roster handed out, there are four players listed at the outside linebacker position. Along with Ryan, sophomore Morrice Richardson (6-2, 235 pounds), junior Kevin Washington (6-1, 240 pounds) and senior Anthony Vernaglia (6-3, 233 pounds) are vying for the two spots coming out of spring. Between these four players, they combined for five total tackles last season. Ryan had four in 10 games. He has a golden opportunity to snatch one of the outside positions and earn playing time in the fall by his performance during the 15 spring practices.
"I think there's a starting job for everyone," Ryan said. "You heard Coach Weis say everyone is competing for a starting job. I'm just going out there and getting better everyday.
"It's a great opportunity that's been presented. Coach Weis said everyone has a shot. We're all out there competing and trying to win that spot."
Although Ryan won't be playing defensive end this season, as a freshman he got to watch one of the premier players on the Notre Dame defense. Ryan backed up Abiamiri, who totaled 43 tackles, 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for losses. Abiamiri is expected to be a first day pick in April's NFL Draft. Ryan really appreciated what Abiamiri taught him about the game of football.
"You really can't teach instincts," Ryan said. "But how we would read and react to a play would be something to watch. He was just a great guy. He really helped me out and focus on the job at hand. He would pick me up when I was down. It was tough sometimes during camp. You hit that mental wall but Vic was always there to help me out with the scheme."
Ryan comes from a winning background. He attended St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, OH, a perennial powerhouse in the Buckeye state. A teammate of Irish wide receiver Robby Parris, Ryan was named to the first-team all-Ohio defense by the Ohio News Network/Ohio High after registering 49 tackles and six sacks as a senior. To come from a place where winning is almost a given helped Ryan with the transition process from high school to college.
"It's a special place," Ryan said of St. Ignatius, who currently has a younger brother there playing football. "More importantly than preparing you physically, it prepares you mentally. You get used to be the little guy. You don't walk in at the top schools and be the top dog. You wait your turn and learn the system and grow as player. I can't say enough for the coaching staff. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here."
Ryan is at Notre Dame and has a shot to be a significant part of next fall's defensive group. He hopes the position change will come natural to him by the end of spring ball.
"I want to get a good grasp of the system," Ryan said. "I want to have a good sense of what I'm doing on the field with the new scheme and plays."