BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Brian Rolle entered training camp as the starting weak-side linebacker, but he knows nothing will be handed to him.
It's a long way between now and the start of the season on Sept. 9, and a long haul until the end of the season. Last year, Moise Fokou opened camp as the starter at weak-side. Fokou held that spot for two regular season games before he was moved to strong-side and Casey Matthews took over his spot after he failed at middle linebacker.
Matthews occupied weak-side for all of one week and that's when Rolle, a fifth-round draft pick out of Ohio State, came in. Rolle started there for the remainder of the year and had your typical season for a rookie -- he was up and he was down.
But he arrived at Lehigh up on the first team even though there were several linebackers with more NFL experience behind him on the depth chart. Jamar Chaney started 16 games last season, the final 14 in the middle, but after the Eagles traded for DeMeco Ryans and drafted Mychal Kendricks he dropped to the second team.
Chaney opened camp behind Kendricks at strong-side, but he could just as easily slide to weak-side if Rolle falters. There are also other candidates ready should Rolle fail -- Akeem Jordan, Keenan Clayton, Fokou and Matthews.
"I know the opportunity that I have is great," Rolle said Friday after the Eagles' morning walkthrough. "I'm coming off a good rookie season. I know Jamar is going to push me as hard as he can to get that starting job. As long as I don't lose focus of that, focus of why I am here ... I'll continue to be the starter."
Rolle has also been out of the field in the Eagles' nickel defense (five defensive backs and two linebackers) with Ryans, although the Eagles are expected to have several different alignments based on matchups.
With Rolle (listed a generous 5-foot-10) and Kendricks (5-11) on the field together, the Eagles have one of the shorter linebacking corps in the NFL. Some had said that their height disadvantage could make them susceptible against tight ends.
"I think they're people that don't play the game or didn't," Rolle said of his critics. "I feel as long as you want you'll get the job done regardless of what size you are."
Ryans at 6-1 nearly towers over his fellow starting linebackers. The former Texans linebacker has already taken the reins of the defense. He coached Rolle and Kendricks on how to play against a particular offensive set today, and the Eagles coaches offered no additional instruction, according to Rolle.
"He's very demanding, I'll you that," Rolle said. "He's not afraid to speak his mind. If he wants something one way it's going to be that way. ... That's something that we need -- somebody that's been through the fire."