Despite the struggle against Pittsburgh, the Eagles have not made any personnel changes with the linebackers as they resumed practice this weekend.
Rookie Casey Matthews remains the middle linebacker, second-year man Jamar Chaney remains on the strong side with third-year man Moise Fokou on the weakside.
Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is clearly taking the long view, focusing on the linebackers getting their work in and getting better.
"The linebackers will be ready to win the Super Bowl," he said today. "Remember, it takes 16 weeks, and then really whoever is playing their best during the playoffs. So when you look at it there’s time to develop. You can say that there’s not, but the key is, who’s playing or fundamentally who’s the best come week 8, 9, 10, and during that crunch time. And over the years we’ve been pretty good during that time, and we’ll continue to do that. The young kids will get better just because they’re working the proper fundamentals.”
Linebacker was seemingly the one area that the Eagles did not address in the long line of impressive free-agent signings they made once the lockout ended.
"They did address it; they drafted some kids," Castillo said. "It takes time to develop kids. Going back to some of you guys [in the media], I’m sure your first year when you started doing what you’re doing now, I’m sure you’re a lot better now than you were when you first started. It’s a process, and it’s our job to develop the kids and make them better. I’m responsible and I have to do a better job and they’ll continue to get better just because we’re doing the right things."
Casey Matthews got in eight plays in the preseason opener and then played more extensively against Pittsburgh. Much of the fault, from the fans, has been pointed at him. The coaches, however, believe Matthews played better than it initially appeared once they reviewed the film.
Castillo said among the things the young linebackers have to work on is using their hands to ward off blockers. He said Matthews improved at that as the game went on. The Eagles' wide nine approach on the defensive line often will force the linebacker to engage more with linemen. Castillo pointed out that for the game the Steelers averaged 3.7 yards per carry, but they did have several big runs, especially against the first team.
"Sometimes I think it’s important to understand, when you’re looking at a game and you think ‘well it’s this guy’s fault,’ you know, sometimes, unless you understand what’s going on, well this guy it wasn’t his gap," Castillo said. "The ball goes into certain different gaps. Casey is going to be, it’s his first time being a middle linebacker. He’s going to get better, and better, and better. Every day he’ll get better.”
The Eagles seem to have a fallback plan in which they could move Chaney back to the middle, where he played last year. Castillo, however, was quick to point out the importance the Eagles place on the strongside linebacker in what they are looking to accomplish.
"That SAM linebacker, I don’t know if you noticed that, that’s a special position for us," Castillo said. "It’s almost a hybrid. He’s got to be able to run, but yet, he’s got to be able to come in there and take on that C gap. That’s a pretty important position to us. He’s a pretty good player, playing a position that’s very important for us.”
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