It took Byron Evans three years to lock down the middle linebacker spot. It took Jeremiah Trotter two years. Casey Matthews has had three weeks.
What Matthews is going through right now is probably inevitable. Hes a rookie trying to start at middle linebacker for a team with playoff aspirations in a year without an off-season.
Will he eventually become a solid NFL starter? No way to know yet.
Is he there now? Pretty clearly, hes not.
Obviously, Im new to this, Matthews said late Thursday night, after the Eagles starters got battered by the Steelers in the first half of their preseason game at Heinz Field.
Ive been here three weeks. Im getting comfortable each and every day I get more reps in practice and games and stuff like that. The more time we spend together, the easier itll get.
But how long can the Eagles wait? Matthews, a fourth-round pick out of Oregon, might be getting better, but opening day is three weeks from Sunday in St. Louis, and the Eagles arent in a position to bring him along slowly. They cant afford to.
They do have options. They can bring in a veteran like Kirk Morrison or Lofa Tatupu, who are currently unsigned. They can move second-year pro Jamar Chaney from strong-side outside linebacker back to the middle, where he played at a high level last year, and go with Keenan Clayton and Moise Fokou outside. Or maybe try veterans Chaney, Fokou and Akeem Jordan, who has 23 starts as an Eagle since 2007.
Or they can stick with Matthews and hope things get better.
After Thursday night, when the Steelers sliced through the Eagles starting defense for two long early touchdown drives on the way to a 24-14 preseason win, the last option seems less likely than ever.
Matthews is in a difficult place. Hes really in an impossible situation.
More than an hour after the game ended Thursday, Matthews told a few Philly reporters hes staying positive because he knows the more he plays the better hell get.
I wasnt discouraged, he said. Obviously, the more you play the more youre going to get more comfortable. ... Were all new to this. Weve got a lot of new guys on the team. Its a newer scheme. Were still all getting used to it and getting live reps with it.
Matthews was credited with two solo tackles, one assist and one tackle for a loss Thursday night. He didnt have any tackles in a brief stint against the Ravens last week.
Whats scary is that the Steelers ran the ball at will against the Eagles starters (93 yards in first half) but Matthews had only two stops. Thats two tackles in 45 plays the Steelers ran before halftime.
I felt fine, Matthews said. Last week it was only eight plays so I didnt really get into a rhythm, but getting to play more and especially against a pretty good team like the Steelers, it definitely helps out a lot. Responsibility-wise, I felt pretty good out there.
Matthews said he doesnt feel like he has the starting job locked up. Head coach Andy Reid likes the idea of giving young players reps with the first team, even if he never really had any intention of letting them start. Jason Kelce appears to be in that position. Brandon Hughes, too. Then, if they do have to eventually play, they have that to build on.
Is Matthews another one of those? Was Reids plan to give him a couple games and then make another move?
Well know soon.
The Eagles return to practice on Saturday, then finish the preseason with a game against the Browns Thursday at the Linc expect the starters to go into the third quarter and then the following Thursday against the Jets in East Rutherford.
After that, the games count.
Ready or not.
Obviously, Im still a rookie, still learning, Matthews said. Im trying to hold on and fight for my job each and every day. Thats the business and thats how it is. ... Everyone should. Youve got to compete every day.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org