The battle at backup inside linebacker has been an underrated one throughout Training Camp. Nevertheless, three players are fighting for roster spots behind presumed starters DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. Those players are Emmanuel Acho, Jake Knott and Casey Matthews, all of whom have had strong Training Camps and consistently flashed both in practices and games.
"It's been fun, it's been good competition," Acho said. "They're all great guys. They're all great competitors and they're all good football players. Just to see each and every one of us excel every game, it's been fun and exciting. In the last game, we'll all get to play a lot and we'll see what happens."
Each player will have a chance for one last audition in the preseason finale against the New York Jets to make an already difficult decision even tougher for their coaches. They are eager to get out on the field and show what they can do, especially now that they will receive extended playing time with Ryans and Kendricks slated not to play.
"I've had limited time out there in the first three preseason games and been able to just play to an extent. But now, if you can get me three quarters, four quarters out there, I think I can fully put on display my full arsenal of everything I can do," Acho said. "I've gotten better each and every game thanks to the different coaches. ... Now I'm excited to show that for four quarters."
"Anytime I go out on the field I try to prove myself," Matthews said. "Obviously I'll be able to play a little more (against the Jets). I'll work hard this week and try to put on a show. … (The Eagles) made their first set of cuts and you see the guys who they released and all of a sudden ... it's an opportunity for guys to step up. You can't change your mindset just because it's the end of (Training Camp). You have to have the same mindset from the start, from OTAs. Obviously you want to put your best film out there and impress the coaches."
In addition to their play as part of the base defense throughout preseason, Acho, Knott and Matthews have been key contributors on special teams. That is ultimately where each player will make his mark during the regular season.
"I think it's absolutely huge," Knott said. "We've got two guys (Ryans and Kendricks) who are pretty reliable starters right now, and so the best way for me to make strides is on special teams, and I've got to do that every single day. (Special Teams) Coach (Dave) Fipp is an awesome, energetic, great coach and I've just got to make sure I'm doing everything he asks me to do."
Head coach Chip Kelly spoke Tuesday morning of a lot still being "up in the air" with final cuts looming, and that Thursday night's game against the Jets is a real opportunity for players who are fighting for roster spots to shine. Acho, Knott and Matthews fall into that group of players. Each is acutely aware of their respective situation and what will be needed to still be with the Eagles after the final roster cutdown. Now, they just have to go out and perform.
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