Eagles Training Camp: Why Casey Matthews Must Be Upgraded at Middle Linebacker
Though the Eagles have seemed to fill every position with a Pro Bowl player, the linebacker position still has yet to be addressed.
Arguably the biggest name the Eagles drafted this year was Casey Matthews from Oregon, brother of Packer-star sack-artist, Clay Matthews III.
Matthews has the bloodline in his favor, but he obviously is not the same player as his brother, whose unique combination of size, speed and strength has positioned him as an elite defensive player. Casey, though, does not have these same qualities that can push him to the top.
Here is what I said about him after the Eagles drafted him:
While Matthews does not have the physical tools, he has a relentless motor and never stops working on and off the field.
Matthews can play all three linebacking spots, though he would excel in the middle, calling the plays out for the defense.
Eventually, I thought if the 230-pound Matthews bulked up, he could win a starting job in a couple of years.
I firmly believed Jamar Chaney would be starting at middle linebacker considering he was impressive manning the middle in a few games last year. He did make mistakes, like any rookie, but for the most part, he showed his immense potential. Chaney is a fundamentally sound tackler, who is aggressive around the ball. He can cover and has great speed and can even blitz. The Eagles, though, seem content with playing him on the strong side, where he can still make an impact, but not as big as in the middle.
Back to the point, Matthews has had a decent camp so far. His strength is reading and reacting, but he has looked lost in coverage so far. At Oregon, he was impressive when he had to drop back, constantly reading the quarterbacks' eyes.
Matthews fits Juan Castillo's scheme which demands quick reaction times, but his lack of size and his struggles in coverage will hurt the Eagles on defense.
I expect Matthews to improve his coverage skills because he looked natural playing in coverage at Oregon. Still though, Matthews' size will probably leave him lost in run coverage. Guards can easily overpower the smaller Matthews.
Jim Washburn's wide-nine scheme will have the defensive ends line up outside the tackles which further forces the linebackers to excel in run coverage. The ends will be trying to get up field, which leaves the linebackers as the next line of defense to stop the run.
The weak-side spot would be perfect for Matthews who can use his reaction skills to roam around, but at the middle spot, he will be a liability.
So who can upgrade Matthews in the middle?
There have been numerous names such as Lofa Tatupu and Kirk Morrison. Tatupu has flat out sucked these past few years, but Morrison could be a solid veteran linebacker here in Philadelphia.
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