Nearly 10 months ago, linebacker Casey Matthews arrived at Lehigh University for the start of his first NFL training camp. A fourth-round pick out of Oregon who is known for being a part of football royalty, Matthews was not sure what to expect without the help of spring camps to aid his transition to the pros.
Matthews was immediately named the starter at middle linebacker without a single practice playing for an overhauled defensive coaching staff which was implementing a whole new scheme.
"It was difficult, but once I was in camp I was kind of blind to it," Matthews said Wednesday reflecting on the start to his NFL career. "I thought I was doing an OK job of getting the basics of the defense."
Matthews struggled as the Eagles opened the season with a win in St. Louis and then a tough loss on the road in Atlanta. He was moved to the weak side and gave up a 40-yard touchdown to Brandon Jacobs in the Week 3 loss to the Giants. Matthews was delegated to special teams after being replaced by Brian Rolle in the starting lineup the following week.
"It was definitely humbling. It never happened to me before," Matthews said.
After his demotion, Matthews needed to take a step back and slow things down. He spent the off days with linebackers coach Mike Caldwell re-learning the defense from scratch. He got a better understanding of run fits and where players were supposed to align themselves against different formations. Matthews worked his way back into the lineup in subpackages and notched 20 tackles in the four-game win streak at the end of the year. Matthews also finished the season third on the team in special teams tackles with 11.
"It was tough, but I learned a lot from last year especially in the beginning. I'm looking forward to going into Lehigh with a full grasp of the defense," Matthews said. "I wouldn't change how my first year went."
After the season ended, Matthews returned to his home in California and trained with his brother, Packers All-Pro linebacker Clay. The one thing Matthews knew he must improve was his ability to shed blocks.
"Basically, I just had to get stronger," Matthews said.
Matthews returned to Philadelphia to take part in the offseason conditioning program. He said that he is up to 250 pounds. And he's a big fan of the team's offseason additions in the linebacking corps starting with Pro Bowl middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans.
"He's the leader that we didn't have," Matthews said. "He's been through it all. He's overcome injuries. He's a good leader. He knows how to motivate people."
Matthews was nearly a teammate of recent second-round pick Mychal Kendricks in college. Matthews hosted Kendricks during his visit to Oregon and said that Kendricks wanted to sign there. Now, the two will share the same locker room in Philadelphia.
"He wanted to go to Oregon. Unfortunately, another linebacker committed before him. I still talk to him about it now. He loved (Oregon)," Matthews said. "I always followed him throughout college because we knew each other. He's a great player and he's going to be a great addition to this team."
On Tuesday, the Organized Team Activities begin at the NovaCare Complex. Outside of Ryans starting in the middle, Matthews does not know what's in store for the linebackers. He said that Caldwell has instructed him to focus on all three linebacker positions. Matthews is right now going a little under the radar among the team's linebacker prospects. And after what happened his rookie year, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"Hopefully, I'll flash during OTAs or camp," Matthews said. "You've been through a season. You know what to expect now. Whatever way I can help this team, that's really it."
Make sure to follow us on Twitter @EaglesInsider