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Eagles' DeMeco Ryans 'the leader Philly didn't have'

Few rookies had as rough a 2011 season as Philadelphia Eagles fourth-round pick Casey Matthews.

Thrown into the fire at middle linebacker by first-year coordinator Juan Castillo, Matthews struggled to pick up the defense as the Eagles allowed nearly 150 rushing yards per game over the first two weeks of the season. Matthews was moved out of the middle for one more start before finding himself on the bench, relegated to special teams and sub-packages for the final 13 weeks.

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Upgrading the linebacker corps was a top priority for the Eagles this offseason. First, they acquired two-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans from the Houston Texans in March. Even though Ryans is a road block to his path back to a starting role, Matthews praised the addition in an interview with the team's official website.

"He's the leader that we didn't have," Matthews said. "He's been through it all. He's overcome injuries. He's a good leader. He knows how to motivate people."

Phase two of the linebacker upgrade came when the Eagles selected California linebacker Mychal Kendricks in the middle of the second round. The 5-foot-11, 239-pound Kendricks played inside in college, but is projected to start at strongside linebacker.

So where does this leave Matthews?

Seeing how he's living proof that being anointed a starter in the offseason does not mean one will be when the regular season rolls around, Matthews will most likely compete with Kendricks and 2011 sixth-round pick Brian Rolle for one of the two spots flanking Ryans. Matthews added that linebackers coach Mike Caldwell wants him to learn all three linebacker spots, and he'll be looking to make an impression during organized team activities, which begin next week.

"Hopefully, I'll flash during OTAs or camp," Matthews said. "You've been through a season. You know what to expect now. Whatever way I can help this team, that's really it."

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