PHILADELPHIA — Casey Matthews has been through training camp, the preseason games and all the hype surrounding his status as the Eagles starting middle linebacker.
On Sunday, it actually happens.
"I'm really excited," Matthews, a fourth-round draft pick out of Oregon, said. "And I'm obviously looking forward to the opportunity of playing in a game that really matters. The preseason matters, but these are the ones that count."
When the Eagles travel to St. Louis for Sunday's season opener against the Rams, Matthews will be in the middle of an Eagles linebacking trio that is both young and inexperienced.
Second-year linebacker Jamar Chaney, who started three games including the wild-card playoff loss to Green Bay in the middle last year, is now on the strong side. And third-year linebacker Moise Fokou, who has 15 career starts, most of them on the strong side, is the starter on the weak side.
That's a total of 18 NFL starts for all three linebackers combined. And none for Matthews.
"I feel I progressed pretty well through camp," he said. "We didn't have the OTAs and the minicamps, because of the lockout, so it was tough coming in Day 1 and trying to run the defense. Now, I feel more comfortable, and the more reps you get, the more comfortable you feel. Things are starting to slow down and I'm starting to learn what other people are supposed to do out there besides my position. I feel like it's all coming along."
Matthews' debut comes against a rebuilding team that has its sights set on winning the NFC West this year. The key to the Rams, as it has been for the past several years, is running back Steven Jackson.
Last year, he finished seventh in the league with 1,241 yards. And this year, his presence in the backfield is paramount to the success of second-year quarterback Sam Bradford.
"He's the focal point for us," Matthews said of Jackson. "He's one of the premier backs in the league. He's the one who makes them go. You want to try to make them one dimensional if you can. If you let him get going it makes things a lot easier for Sam."
The Eagles are trying to make things easy for Matthews, the brother of Clay, a Pro Bowl linebacker with the Packers.
"Casey has done a nice job," coach Andy Reid said. "What you saw with Casey was improvement every game that he played and Juan (Castillo, the defensive coordinator) hasn't slowed down with him. He's asked him to be the primary signal caller, he attacked that innate learning ability of his and tested it.
"Casey was able to retain and make all the calls, and still, at the same time, get better every week playing football. And that's a tribute to the kid."
NOTES: Quarterback Vince Young took a few snaps at practice yesterday, but is still listed as doubtful for Sunday. If Young can't go, Mike Kafka will be the No. 2 behind Michael Vick. ... Cornerback Asante Samuel tweaked his shoulder in practice on a collision with receiver Riley Cooper. Samuel appeared to be OK, but was listed on the injury report as probable. ... Receiver Steve Smith, who suffered a microfracture in his knee while playing for the Giants last year, has made it all the way back and will play Sunday. "I really didn't know what to expect, but I had my doubts," Smith said. "I had heard nothing but bad things about the injury. To be able to play opening day, it just feels great." -- (AP)
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Garrett Reid was a “happy-go-lucky” guy who conquered drug addiction, loved being in the weight room and enjoyed making players laugh.
That’s how many of the Philadelphia Eagles closest to Reid remembered their coach’s oldest son, who was found dead Sunday morning in a dorm room at the club’s Lehigh University training camp. Police said the 29-year-old’s death was not suspicious, and the cause was under investigation.
“I spent plenty of time with him,” guard Evan Mathis said Monday. “He was always in the weight room with us and was always on the field with us. He was a happy-go-lucky guy and always a joy to be around, always telling jokes and having fun. Really just brightened your day when you were around him.”
Funeral services will be held on Tuesday. It’s a scheduled day off from camp, so the team is expected to attend.
“I spent a lot of the offseason hanging out with Garrett. We were pretty close,” center Jason Kelce said. “I want to be there to say ‘Goodbye’ to him.”
The Eagles on Monday held a regular morning walkthrough and a full afternoon practice without coach Andy Reid for the second straight day. Reid spoke to the team Sunday before he left camp and impressed upon them the importance of sticking to their daily schedules. The Eagles (No. 8 in the AP Pro32) open the preseason against the Steelers on Thursday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Owner Jeffrey Lurie already said he expects Reid, a father of five, to return this week.
“For us to not take any days off and be out here having Coach Reid and Garrett on our minds, it’s been tough,” running back LeSean McCoy said. “The biggest thing is that he wants all of us to stay together as a team. He said, ‘Guys, stick together. We’re all in this together.’
“We’re actually his extended family, and he said it’s tough right now, but we need to stay together as a team even in his absence. He wants us to be here, stay together, train hard and try and achieve our goal. Playing a game is something big, but playing for him and his family actually motivates us a little bit more.”
Garrett Reid had been staying at camp where he assisted strength and conditioning coach Barry Rubin in an unofficial capacity. Exercise and training had become a passion for Reid and he aspired to make it a career.
“He was putting a lot of work into it, doing a lot of research,” Kelce said. “That was his goal — to be a strength and conditioning coach as a head guy. He was good at it.”
Reid’s knowledge and affable personality was a big reason why quarterback Michael Vick spent so much time working out with him during the offseason.
“Just a great spirit, a lot of enthusiasm, fun to be around and always is going to make you smile when you are in a bad mood,” Vick said. “He can always get you to crack a smile and that’s what I’m going to miss about him. That’s what I enjoyed each and every day. In the offseason, he was one of the reasons that I came to work five days out of the week.”
Players who knew Reid five years ago saw his transformation. They knew he had come a long way. Garrett Reid was sentenced to nearly two years in prison for a 2007 high-speed car crash while he was high on heroin that injured another driver. Police found heroin and more than 200 pills in his car. When he surrendered to begin his sentence, prison guards found Reid had tried to smuggle prescription pills into jail.
His younger brother, Britt, also had problems with drug use and was arrested on the same day as Garrett in 2007 for a road-rage encounter. Police discovered weapons and drugs in Britt Reid’s vehicle.
But Reid’s two oldest boys appeared to be on the right track. Britt is a graduate assistant coach at Temple, where Spencer Reid is a redshirt freshman running back.
“I think it’s a remarkable turnaround to go from where he was to — you guys have seen him — he lost a lot of weight, health became a huge part of his life; he had everything going in the right direction,” right tackle Todd Herremans said.
Linebacker Casey Matthews worked out often with Garrett Reid as a rookie last year, and didn’t even realize he was the coach’s son for the first couple months.
“He was a good guy,” Matthews said. “When I got to know him in the weight room, I didn’t even know he was Coach Reid’s son.”
Matthews said Garrett Reid talked about his past at times, but players never brought up the topic. Like others who knew Garrett Reid, Matthews said he would be shocked if his death was drug-related.
“He was past all that,” Matthews said. “He was always happy, always upbeat, always had your back.” — (AP)
After losing to the New York Giants last week, the Philadelphia Eagles knew they had to make some changes on defense. The Eagles made a change at linebacker inserting rookie Brian Rolle into the starting lineup.
Rolle isn’t the biggest linebacker in the NFL. At 5-foot-10 and 227 pounds, he’s one of the smallest at his position. But Rolle has been nothing but impressive ever since training camp. Now, he’ll get an opportunity to play against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Oct. 2 (Fox TV 1 p.m.) at Lincoln Financial Field.
“It’s a lot of fun being out there,” Rolle said. “I still prepare the same way. I have the same mentality to work hard and show the coaches that they made the right decision.
“They’re going to see a guy who is physical. They’re going to run at me. I’m putting guys on their butts. That’s what I told the guys from (St. Louis) Rams when they ran a play a couple weeks ago. It’s going to be easy running my way. I’m going to go out there and get physical and show them how athletic I am.”
Rolle played his college football at Ohio State. A year ago, he earned All-Big Ten Conference honors after leading the team with 76 tackles, including 11.5 tackles for a loss, and posting 2.5 sacks and two interceptions. In spite of his credentials, the Eagles selected him in the sixth round of the NFL draft last spring.
Rolle certainly hasn’t played like a rookie. He’s been on the field in each of the Eagles first three games. The Eagles are going to need a strong defensive effort against the 49ers. Rolle already knows he’ll be tested right away. Alex Smith is San Francisco’s quarterback. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter lead the 49ers running game. Rolle’s biggest challenge will be playing the pass.
“Frank Gore is a great guy in the backfield catching the ball,” he said. “I have to watch him. I know they’re going to try to throw the ball to him. Kendall Hunter is another good runner. He’s a rookie out of Oklahoma State. He’s a smaller guy who is fast and can catch the ball as well. I have to keep an eye on him.”
Rolle has a lot of family ties with the NFL. He is the cousin of New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle and former Baltmore Ravens defensive back Samari Rolle. Another cousin, Myron Rolle, was a sixth round draft choice of the Tennessee Titans in 2010. In addition, his brother William played football at Illinois State.
The Eagles are 1-2 on the season. They could really use a win on Sunday. They’re hoping to make some things happen at the defensive end and particularly at linebacker.