Juan: Matthews in Middle 'Cause He's 'Natural Leader'

Casey Matthews was the Eagles' starting middle linebacker in his first practice with the team. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

BETHLEHEM -- Reporters finally got a chance to talk to new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo today, for the first time since the draft. Lotsa stuff to cover, but first up was his surprising decision to make fourth-round rookie Casey Matthews the Birds' starting middle linebacker for the very first practices of Matthews' pro career.

"He's a football player. He's smart. He has that 'it.' We feel, as the middle linebacker, we want a guy who can get everybody lined up and be a leader," Castillo said after a teaching-paced morning session. "He's grown up, really, being a leader," as part of such a famous football family. The Eagles had major problems blocking Casey's brother, Clay, in a couple of meetings with the Packers last season.

"Everybody needs a first chance," said Castillo, who lobbied hard to move from o-line to defense this season. "He's a natural leader. He was the one calling the defense yesterday. Pretty smart guy."

Castillo has moved Jamar Chaney, who looked pretty good in the middle toward the end of last season, over to the strongside, the one spot Chaney did not play as a rookie. (Stew Bradley seems close to joining Kevin Kolb with the Cards.)

 But the way Castillo envisions the Eagles' D, the strongside 'backer is going to need to be a very physical presence, which Chaney is. 

"We're going to attack and get up the field," Castillo said.

Of course, no one should assume the Eagles won't sign a linebacker in free agency who might supplant Matthews.

"It was a surprise when they told me I was playing the SAM, I ain't gonna lie," said Chaney, who had talked to Castillo and linebackers coach Mike Caldwell briefly in April during the lockout thaw, and was left with the impression he would play in the middle or on the weakside. "I like it so far. You gotta have a really athletic linebacker at the SAM, because it's pretty much a spot where the safety would play sometimes, and then, you're uncovered, too. You gotta be able to take on that tackle; the open lineman's going to come up to you."

Chaney said Matthews, whom he rides back and forth to the dorms with evrery day, "is picking it up pretty fast, especially for a rookie."

Castillo was also asked about his key addition, corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was scheduled to arrive at Philadelphia International Airport around 2:30 and be driven up to Lehigh.

"He's a shutdown corner," Castillo said.

Reporters are scheduled to talk to Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive end Jason Babin this evening.


By the way, the Eagles are emphatic in their denials that fullback Leonard Weaver found out from a reporter that his contract was terminated, Thursday night, as Weaver tweeted. An Eagles spokesman said team officials spoke with Weaver well before that.