The Eagles linebackers know they're under the spotlight. While the rest of the defense is littered with Pro Bowlers and first-round picks, the three starters at linebacker consist of two seventh-rounders and a rookie fourth-round pick. So when things don't go well, such as the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jamar Chaney, Moise Fokou and Casey Matthews know they're in the crosshairs.
"People have to have something to talk about, and right now they're talking about the linebackers and how young we are, how inexperienced," said Chaney. "But we come in here and we work. At the end of the day, we're going to get the job done. We don't have any proven linebackers here, but every linebacker that's ever been in this league had to come into the league unproven. No linebacker ever came into the NFL that's good right now with people saying, 'Oh, he's going to be a Hall of Fame player,' before he even got here. He had to go on the field and prove it, and that's what we're looking to do."
"It's something we can rally around," said Matthews. "Obviously we're new to this stuff. We're getting more comfortable out there each and every game we play. We have to learn from the mistakes and go from there, get it corrected."
Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, himself a former linebacker, said that he knows the team may experience some growing pains with its young corps in the middle of the field. But what matters most is that they keep improving as the season goes along.
"The linebackers will be ready to win the Super Bowl," Castillo said. "Remember, it takes 16 weeks, and then really whoever is playing their best during the playoffs. So when you look at it there's time to develop. You can say that there's not, but the key is, who's playing or fundamentally who's the best come week eight, nine, ten, and during that crunch time. And over the years we've been pretty good during that time, and we'll continue to do that. The young kids will get better just because they're working the proper fundamentals."
The linebackers are also undergoing a change to their fundamentals. Most teams teach their linebackers to lead with their shoulder when trying to shed blocks from offensive linemen. This season, Castillo and linebackers coach Mike Caldwell are emphasizing a technique that asks the linebackers to use their hands more, which theoretically provides a better opportunity to make plays.
"You can make more plays like that if you do it the right way," said Chaney. "When you take on somebody with your shoulder, it's one for one. If I take on a guard or somebody with my shoulder, we're trading each other. He's wasting himself and I'm wasting myself. It's not like I'm going to make a play. You might luck out and make some plays like that, but most of the good linebackers, they do a good job of using their hands and getting off blocks and they're able to make plays they're not supposed to make."
Meanwhile, Chaney is glad just to be on the field. After an ostensibly dirty play by Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster could have potentially knocked Chaney out for the season, the linebacker is less angry than thankful.
"It won't help me none to be mad about it," he said, "we don't play the Steelers unless we make it to the Super Bowl and they make it too."
Chaney added that Foster apologized to Chaney via Twitter and that he believes the intent was not malicious.