LB Matthews making name for self at Eagles camp

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LB Matthews making name for self at Eagles camp

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Casey Matthews is in the family business, but he is also trying to make a name for himself.

The Eagles' rookie was installed as the first-string middle linebacker on the first day of training camp -- catching everyone by surprise (including him) -- even though he did not have the benefit of any minicamps because of the NFL lockout. And Matthews, an Oregon product taken in the fourth round of Aprils draft, has only solidified his hold on that spot since then.

Hes come in here and taken charge, head coach Andy Reid said Sunday.

Hes athletic, hes tough, hes smart, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said. He can handle all our schemes. Hes done a great job. Its unbelievable.

If Matthews is still the starter when the season begins on Sept. 11 in St. Louis, he would be the third player in as many years to open in the middle for the Eagles. Stewart Bradley was the regular last year, and Omar Gaither began the 09 season in that position, after Bradley suffered a preseason knee injury. (Gaither himself was injured early that season, opening a revolving door. The venerable Jeremiah Trotter wound up getting the most starts -- seven -- at that spot.)

Trotter began six other seasons as the regular in the middle under Reid, who became the coach in 1999.

That has given the Birds -- who traditionally dont value linebackers as much as they do other positions -- more stability at that spot than on the flanks. Levon Kirkland (2002) and Mark Simoneau (2003) have also been full-time starters there, albeit forgettable ones.

Now Matthews gets his shot, and know this -- his family tends to have staying power. His dad, Clay Jr., and his Uncle Bruce each played 19 seasons in the NFL, Clay Jr. as an outside linebacker (primarily with the Browns) and Bruce as a Hall of Fame offensive tackle for the Titans.

Caseys grandfather, Clay Sr., also played in the league. So too does his cousin, Kevin, who is a center for Tennessee. But the relative to whom Casey is most often compared is his brother, Clay III, a two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker last seen helping the Packers win a world championship (and terrorizing the Eagles while en route).

It is a comparison Casey finds pretty frustrating, since he and Clay play different positions. But it is one that remains foremost in peoples minds.

Hes a playmaker, Castillo said of Casey. The bloodlines, you know?

Matthews started the better part of three years at Oregon, making 79 tackles and earning All-Pac-10 first-team honors last season for a team that lost to Auburn in the BCS Championship Game. The Eagles were among those pro teams that wanted to take a closer look at him.

While doing so, Reid said, Youve got to put aside, a little bit, the pedigree and make sure you evaluate the player. His dad, his grandfather and uncle, everybodys done well. But that doesnt necessarily mean that that players going to do well.

The Eagles appear to believe that he will. Matthews, delayed in reporting to camp while his contract was being hammered out, missed his introductory positional meeting the night of July 27. But when he finally settled into his dorm room, he received a text message from linebackers coach Mike Caldwell, asking if he could stop by to go over some things with him.

It was at that point that Caldwell informed him he would be running with the first string.

I was shocked, Matthews said. I didnt even have the playbook til the next day. It was a little different, but I feel confident and comfortable.

The starting strong- and weak-side backers at present are Jamar Chaney and Moise Fokou. And Chaney, who wound up playing the middle as a rookie late last year because of an injury to Bradley, believes the presence of two semi-experienced guys has aided the rookies transition. So too does the fact that Castillo has simplified the defense since replacing Sean McDermott in the off-season.

We were running the same defense Jim Johnson ran, with like 60 blitzes, 80 blitzes, Chaney said. We dont have that many blitzes anymore.

In the meantime Matthews has picked up some pointers here and there from his dad and brother. Nothing big, he said. They just tell him to stay in his playbook, to try to stay ahead of the curve -- something thats not always easy to do.

They install, like, four new things a night, he said of the coaches. Once you get the hang of that, they throw more new stuff at you, so youve really got to keep up with it. Thats one thing -- youve got to take good notes and study that, go from there. Some people get lost.

Not him. Reid said Matthews has kept his mistakes to a minimum, and that he learns from those he does make. Castillo said the rookie has managed to keep his poise, even as the new defensive coordinator whips himself into a frenzy every day in practice.

Nothing fazes him, Castillo said.

Like so many of his teammates, Matthews looks forward to Thursday nights preseason opener against Baltimore in Lincoln Financial Field, believing it will be a good measuring point for him.

It will also be another milepost on his journey to who-knows-where. And like so many in his family, he is hoping to be around for the long haul.

For more from Gordie, check out his blog

Despite rocky offseason, Eagles QBs have "a really good relationship"

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Despite rocky offseason, Eagles QBs have "a really good relationship"

Sam Bradford says Carson Wentz is a great kid. Carson Wentz says his relationship with Sam Bradford is special.

So much for them hating each other.

Bradford and Wentz both spoke glowingly of each other Tuesday after an OTA practice at the NovaCare Complex.

And both spoke equally highly of Chase Daniel, the Eagles’ other quarterback.

Turns out they all like each other.

Boring? Yeah. Drama? No. But they all say that’s the reality.

“They’re great dudes,” Bradford said. “We have a really good room. Having Chase in the room for me and Carson has been great because he’s been in the system for what, three? This is his fourth year in the system? So he understands some of the smaller details.

“Like when we watch tape, he’s able to point out, ‘Hey, this play looks like this against this coverage,’ or, ‘You can short-cut this read and (throw) here a little quicker against this coverage.’ So I think having him in the room with me and Carson has been really good.

“Carson, he’s been great. He’s a great kid, he’s really talented. It’s been fun working with him, trying to help him, trying to just share bits of information that I’ve picked up.”

It was the Eagles’ decision to trade up to No. 2 in the draft and take Wentz that led Bradford to leave voluntary practices for two weeks and demand a trade.

It wasn’t until he returned earlier this month that he even met Wentz, the former North Dakota State star.

But Wentz said there’s been no tension between the two. The opposite has been the case.

“It’s been great working with Sam, working with Chase,” Wentz said. “We’ve got an awesome quarterback room. A lot of really good discussions about the play book, about life. It’s been great.

“And then on the practice field, it’s been great for me. We all have a really good relationship. Nothing but great things to say about those guys.”

Head coach Doug Pederson has maintained that Bradford is the starter going into the regular season. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said there’s open competition.

Whatever happens in September, it’s only a matter of time until this is Wentz’s team.

But Daniel said so far everybody is handling a tricky situation just fine.

“You know what, business is business,” Daniel said Tuesday. “Like I’ve said before, everyone handles (those situations) a little bit differently. For me, there’s no awkwardness. I know I’ve talked to Sam, there’s no (awkwardness).

“It’s you check your ego at the door, it’s time to go to work. Let’s go to work.”

If there are any hard feelings, these three quarterbacks are certainly hiding them very well.

“The relationship we have with us three is huge,” Wentz said. “We’re not out there to get each other, we’re out there to make the team better. (That) not only uplifts the team but makes us individually better.

“Being able to work together and not have to worry and stress out about the other stuff. At the end of the day makes the team better.”

Bradford is the incumbent starter. Daniel is the most experienced in Pederson’s offense. Wentz is the hot-shot rookie.

It’s a better story if they hate each other. But so far at least, they seem to be getting along just great.

“For me and the rest of the quarterbacks, we view every day as an opportunity to get better,” Wentz said.

“We have a little friendly competition among ourselves to make us better. If we’re all pushing each other, working together, it only makes the team better, and I think that’s something we have going on here that’s really special.”

President Obama praises Villanova at the renamed 'Blue and White House'

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AP Photo

President Obama praises Villanova at the renamed 'Blue and White House'

Villanova’s memorable victory tour continued Tuesday as noted basketball fan and President of the United States Barack Obama welcomed the Wildcats to the White House -- or, as he called it, “the Blue and White House today.” 

You should definitely watch the whole video but here are some highlights from the very cool ceremony: 

  • Obama said that Vice President Joe Biden, whose wife Jill Biden got a Master’s degree from Villanova, picked the Wildcats to win it all. “That’s the type of wise counsel you’re looking for in a vice president. Unfortunately, I didn’t follow the counsel so my bracket was busted,” said Obama, who picked Kansas to win it all and didn’t even have ’Nova in the Final Four.
  • Obama called Jay Wright the “George Clooney of coaches” and “the best dressed man in college basketball.” We’ve reached out to George Clooney’s reps for comment (no we haven’t).
  • He pointed out that leading scorer Josh Hart went to the same high school -- Sidwell Friends -- as his daughter Malia, who will graduate from there next week. “It’s good to see a Sidwell kid do well.”
  • It was fun to hear the president call Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins by their nicknames -- “The Chef” and “Big Smooth,” respectively.
  • He purposefully sped through Ryan Arcidiacono’s name “in case I didn’t say it right” -- and he didn’t. “I’m just gonna call him Arch,” Obama said, learning an important lesson for Villanova fans, college basketball writers and world leaders everywhere.
  • Was that a Charles Barkley weight joke? After comparing Kris Jenkins’ famous game-winner to Christian Laettner’s shot vs. Kentucky in 1992 and N.C. State’s buzzer-beater in the 1983 title game, Obama said “Charles Barkley apparently jumped out of his seat, which he doesn’t do very often these days.”
  • He praised Villanova’s off-court achievements, including the fact that they ranked in the top 10 percent nationally in grades and all five seniors graduated (continuing a trend of every four-year Villanova player graduating since the 1970s). And he discussed how Ochefu and Arcidiacono surprised a young ’Nova fan with cancer by hiding in his playhouse -- “which seems a little scary but their hearts were in the right place.”
  • He didn’t hold back about the epic ending to the NCAA tourney, calling it “as memorable of a championship game as I can remember” and “maybe the best title game of all time,” before adding that “just the last few seconds could be a documentary.” 

After Obama’s remarks -- good job, speechwriters! -- Wright took his turn at the podium to present the President with a Villanova jersey from their game at Pearl Harbor last December and to thank him for his leadership.

“Nothing is as big as this,” Wright said. “This is big time. This is a great day for Villanova University.”

Well said, Coach Clooney.

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

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Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

Bryce Harper is out of the Nationals' lineup Tuesday night after being hit in the knee by a Jeremy Hellickson pitch on Memorial Day.

Big break for the Phils considering Harper has hit .346 against them with three doubles, 11 home runs, 23 RBIs and 21 walks in his last 104 plate appearances against them.

It's an equally big break for Aaron Nola, against whom Harper is 6 for 10 with two homers (see game notes).

For the Phillies, Ryan Howard gets the start at first base against another right-hander, Washington's Joe Ross. Phillies fans are clamoring for more playing time for Tommy Joseph, but starting Howard against Ross does make some sense given how much better lefties have been against him (.295 BA) than righties (.209). Ross throws a ton of sinkers and sliders, which make it tough on same-handed hitters.

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Cameron Rupp, C
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Tyler Goeddel, LF
7. David Lough, RF
8. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
9. Aaron Nola, P

And for the Nationals:

1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Jayson Werth, RF
3. Daniel Murphy, 2B
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
5. Clint Robinson, LF
6. Anthony Rendon, 3B
7. Wilson Ramos, C
8. Danny Espinosa, SS
9. Joe Ross, P