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Eagles makes changes again at linebacker

September 29, 2011

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PHILADELPHIA—The Eagles have shuffled their linebacking corps again.

They were due.

After all, they hadn't made any changes in a full week.

For the second time in as many games, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo have shaken up the Eagles' linebacking lineup, this time benching embattled rookie fourth-round pick Casey Matthews and replacing him at weakside outside linebacker with another rookie, 5-foot-10 Brian Rolle.

Rolle's work in the Eagles' nickel package the first three weeks of the season earned him the promotion over Matthews, younger brother of 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Clay Matthews of the Packers.

The Eagles (1-2) play host to the 49ers (2-1) on Sunday.

"Every time I was in there, you heard my name, so the coaches must have seen that light and thought I needed to be on the field more," said Rolle, a sixth-round pick from Ohio State. "I'm going to get in, have fun, work hard and take over that spot. I'm ready for it.

"I feel like I was ready out of college. Coming into this league, nobody gave me a chance and now I get the nod to be a starter. I'm just looking forward to having fun and making plays."

Matthews, a fourth-round pick from Oregon, became the first rookie linebacker to start on opening day for the Eagles since Alonzo Johnson in 1986. Castillo said he'll still play in some situations.

"It's disappointing, but I still have the whole season to get better," Matthews said. "It's a long season, it's still early, and my goal is to get back out there. I'm going to keep working hard and try to get my job back."

Middle linebacker Jamar Chaney and strongside linebacker Moise Fokou, who both moved into those positions last week, will remain in place.

For now.

Facing a fairly important game, the Eagles will head into Sunday with the trifecta of Fokou, Chaney and Rolle, who have started just a combined 23 NFL games.

"They're athletic, they're tough, they're physical. They're just young, and they just need to be developed," Castillo said. "We're doing the correct fundamentals and they'll get better and better.

"It's going to take a little bit of time, as far as where you get to see where you say, 'Oh man, this is a Pro Bowler.' We do have the guys that have the ability to be Pro Bowlers. Now it's time for us as coaches to develop them and for them to believe in themselves and make plays."

Rolle will become the 13th linebacker to start at least one regular-season game for the Eagles since Opening Day of 2009. And with that said, the Eagles have had only one Pro Bowl linebacker in the last 14 years -- Jeremiah Trotter in 2000, 2001 and 2004.

What's more, Eagles linebackers don't have a sack in their last six games, or an interception in their last 10.

As such, and because of the lack of stability, the lack of playmaking and the lack of high draft picks or prominent free agents, the unit has been the focal point of fan criticism for years.

And it's only getting worse.

"I've heard some of the stuff the fans are saying," Fokou said. "I know a lot of the buzz is about the linebackers, but we're going to get this thing together, and I think we can be one of the better linebacking groups in the league once we get everything together. Until then, we're going to have to battle some inexperience and some youth.

"But we'll be OK."

The Eagles have lost to the Falcons and Giants the last two weeks, squandering fourth-quarter leads in both. They're ranked 30th against the run and 24th in points allowed.

"People are going to look at last week and think that we're falling apart," Rolle said. "It's three games into the season. We're still working hard, staying overtime, getting it together.

"People looking outside in might think there's something majorly wrong, but it's all small things that can be worked out."

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