A year ago, Casey Matthews was preparing to enter his rookie season as a starting linebacker. Now, the second-year Oregon man is fighting to get back on the field and prove his worth after missing the last two preseason games with a high ankle sprain. The inability to make his case for playing time has been trying for 23-year-old.
"It's definitely frustrating, especially something that I'm not really used to," Matthews said Monday. "I haven't been out too long with an injury before. I'm just trying to bounce back from it. (Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo) told me I was having a good Training Camp before that. I just have to bounce back, keep my head in it ... stay focused and keep up with the defense."
Matthews is right about his track record health-wise. He played in all 16 games last season played in every game for Oregon from 2008-2010. The last time Matthews missed one of his team's games was all the way back in his freshman season. So for now, Matthews focuses on the mental aspect of the position, but it's no full substitute.
"Just taking mental reps, walkthroughs and stuff like that," he said. "But it's tough, obviously the physical reps are going to be the most important. It's tough not getting those, but you just have to stay in it mentally."
Matthews did not participate in Monday's practice, making him a stretch to play Thursday night against the New York Jets in the preseason finale. The goal now for Matthews is to suit up for Week 1.
My ankle "feels pretty good," he said. "I'm almost there, there's just a little stiffness in it, they're just trying to get that out. I should be ready by Week 1.
"They said it could linger. They said no matter how good your ankle feels, it's always ... they guarantee you're going to tweak it again. It's going to feel the same but the pain will go away within a matter of minutes. And they said eventually it's just going to go away completely. But it's tough. It's tough to judge. I'm trying to get in the trainers' head and trying to get back there as soon as I can."
Matthews, who started the first three games in 2011 then became an important sub-package player late in the season, spent the majority of his Training Camp reps as the second-team middle linebacker, but he's been studying all three linebacker positions. Knowing that Akeem Jordan, who had been working at the SAM position, was recently promoted to first-team WILL gives Matthews some motivation that, eventually, he'll still have an opportunity to impress the coaches.
"During OTAs and early on in Training Camp, (Castillo) just wanted me to learn all three (linebacker positions), that way that would be the best chance to get on the field if something happens," said Matthews. "Obviously, knowing all three positions doesn't hurt, but they make so many changes to the lineup, you've got to be ready for any of them."
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