AND SO, the Eagles' Brian Rolle arrives at weakside linebacker with 5 feet, 10 inches of body and 6 feet, 5 inches of confidence. Casey Matthews is out and Rolle is in, and it is fair to say that the team has now picked the right guy out of those two. Whether it makes a difference is another issue entirely.
"I feel like I'm a guy that is athletic," Rolle said yesterday. "I'm physical, a guy that knows the game very well and plays hard. I'm not saying that Casey didn't - Casey's a great player, as well. I guess the coaches just felt the need for a new body in there, somebody that may bring a little more excitement, maybe."
Oh, and get this: Mr. Excitement says he wants to "hopefully get matched up with" 49ers tight end Vernon Davis on his maiden voyage as a starter. Davis is 6-3 and 250 pounds and as fast as a human being that big can possibly be.
To which Rolle replied: "Being fast isn't everything. It's all about technique in this league, as well."
This will be interesting, if nothing else. A rookie sixth-round draft choice out of Ohio State, Rolle had a better summer than Matthews, the fourth-rounder out of Oregon. But somebody in the Eagles' hierarchy loved the idea of Matthews in the middle of that defense, wearing the radio helmet, relaying the defensive calls, all of that. And if it was a disaster from the beginning, well, Matthews obviously had a sponsor or sponsors in the building and the thing probably lasted a week or 2 longer than it should have as he was moved from middle linebacker to the weak side.
Now it is Rolle's job full time, rather than just as a nickel fill-in.
"I just showed that I'm willing to go out there and step up and make plays when they need to be made," Rolle said. "I was talking to my dad last night and told him every time I was in there, you heard my name, so the coaches must have seen that light and thought I needed to be on the field more."
For as long as he plays in the NFL, Rolle's first name will always be "5-foot-10." If he survives for any period of time playing linebacker at that height, it will be an upset. Doing a quick search on pro-football-reference.com, in the last decade, there have been only three NFL linebackers who started at least 10 games in a season at that height: London Fletcher (2001-10 in St. Louis, Buffalo and Washington), Dexter Coakley (2001-04 in Dallas), and Clint Session (2008-09 in Indianapolis). Only three other 5-10 players in that time period started at least one game. And that's all, folks.
Rolle gets it. He says he knows people still talk about Fletcher's size, all of these years later. He seems very confident that his football savvy can make up for any height deficiency.
Savvy was not Matthews' strength. Some people saw more physical issues but he just seemed tentative. He was embarrassed Sunday when he got sucked in by a play fake and the Giants' Brandon Jacobs ran by him on a pass route. Asked about it, Rolle said he's been in that situation and, for him, "It's just second nature - just take the back."
He said, "Just knowing the game of football and knowing where you need to be helps you out."
Asked whether he was ready, Rolle said, "I'm not very ready because this is the first day of actual practice this week. But give me a couple of days. But for this challenge, I'm ready for it. I feel like I was ready out of college. Coming into this league, nobody gave me a chance and now I get the nod to be a starter. I'm just looking forward to having fun and making plays."
He says he thinks he is a better player against than run than against the pass. He says the thing he needs to work on is just trusting what he is seeing on the field and reacting accordingly. He is now part of a defense that has allowed a ton of rushing yardage and eight touchdown passes in the last two games. He will start and Nate Allen will start at safety for Kurt Coleman and we will see.
Two final points:
Casey Matthews' career isn't over just because Rolle's is beginning. And, the Eagles' defensive problems aren't over just because they have made this move. The last two games have been about a lot more than weakside linebacker.
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