With all of the improvements the Eagles have made this week in free agency, the signing of cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, and the addition of defensive end Jason Babin, one question remains: who will play middle linebacker?
In a press conference last Friday, new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo announced that rookie Casey Matthews out of Oregon, brother of Packers star linebacker Clay Matthews, would be the middle linebacker in his defense, saying that the job was his to lose. The Eagles selected Matthews in the fourth round not because he was overly athletic, but because he was extremely intelligent.
When asked about his decision to give Matthews first string reps, Castillo responded, "The thing about it is that he is a football player. He's smart. He has that 'it'. At middle linebacker we want somebody who can get everyone lined up; someone that can be a leader."
The Eagles have solidified multiple facets of their defense this week, but the linebacker position is one that had yet to be addressed. Stewart Bradley started at middle linebacker last season before he sustained an ACL injury ending his season. Bradley will reportedly not be back in time for the beginning of the 2011 season, which begged the question, "Who will play middle linebacker in his stead?" Well, now we have our answer.
Only time will tell if Casey Matthews can live up to the family name, but if he can rise to the challenge the Eagles will have one of the top defenses in the league. Babin and Trent Cole will provide a strong pass rush on the defensive line while Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie will make it difficult to throw the ball anywhere except over the middle. According to Castillo, safety Nate Allen, who left last season with an ACL injury, is healthy and making plays.
With Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie now on the roster, sources speculate that the Eagles will look to deal Asante Samuel. If they do not address the linebacker position in a trade with Asante Samuel and Casey Matthews continues to impress in training camp, look for the him to take the field as a starter on opening day against the Rams in St. Louis.