He didn't have mini-camps. He didn't have Organized Team Activities. But rookie Casey Matthews continues to work in as the first-team middle linebacker.
"He's a football player. He's smart. He has that 'it,'" defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said on Friday. "He's a natural leader. Very smart kid. He came in at about 245 pounds, looks really good. He did a good job of really running the defense (Thursday), so we feel excited about the kid."
The team's fourth-round draft pick may have the bloodlines of being one of six family members to play in the NFL, but Matthews's game has impressed not only his coach but his teammates as well.
"He's smart. He's vocal. You can tell he was the leader of his team when he was in college, so he's already got that in him," said strongside linebacker Jamar Chaney. "You really can't tell anything else until you put the pads on and see how you get off blocks and see how you can handle that. But (Thursday) he was running 10 plays and even though he was a little tired, he was still calling the plays and still doing his assignments."
Yes, you read correctly that Chaney is now on the strong side with Moise Fokou over at the weakside spot. That's a result of the wrinkles that Castillo and new defensive line coach Jim Washburn have put on the new defense.
Washburn is implementing the wide-nine technique where the defensive ends line up on the outside shade of the offensive line. Castillo also explained that the defensive line will attack upfield on all downs, not just passing downs as in previous years.
The linebackers will now be responsible for the C gap which is between the tackle and the tight end instead of the gap outside of the tight end. Chaney added that last year the linebackers in coverage were taught to go to a spot. Now, they'll be more physical with receivers within the 5-yard window.
Castillo has insisted all offseason long that his defense will attack. Will the charge be led by a rookie at such a pivotal position?
For now, the answer is yes.
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