The rookie wideout from Vanderbilt has taken a proactive role as the Eagles practice in June for what will happen in September
By Ben Sullivan
Jordan Matthews loves to practice.
That was one of the first things head coach Chip Kelly mentioned after drafting him last month, and that was evident watching Matthews on Monday.
Whether it was a short catch or a long one, Matthews made sure to run to the end zone after every play. He was also very vocal for a rookie, signaling for the ball during plays and talking to his teammates afterwards. Finally, after practice was over, Matthews spent an extra 20 minutes with backup quarterback Mark Sanchez running routes.
“We are all trying to get in the most work we can,” Matthews said of the post-practice workout.
Matthews got plenty of work in with Sanchez during practice as well, as the rookie ran with the second-team. Matthews’ place on the first-team was taken by veteran Brad Smith, a move that likely had to do with Matthews missing practice last week.
With Sanchez as his quarterback — and the combination of Arrelious Benn and Ifeanyi Momah as his fellow wideouts — Matthews moved all around the field during practice. He spent most of his time in the slot, but still ran a few plays from the outside, both going deep and taking short screen passes.
“It’s really early,” Matthews said of being on the second-team. “Whether it is first team, second team, third team, we are all just trying to compete.”
It’s was easy to see why the Eagles are hopeful about what he can bring to the offense. At 6-foot-3 209 pounds, Matthews has similar size to receiver Riley Cooper — but is considerably faster. Matthews was very quick coming out of cuts, making one move during practice that split two defenders and freed him for a sprint to the end zone. Matthews’ combination of size and speed was the best of any receiver on Monday, veteran or rookie.
“I just have to be confident and make plays every day,” Matthews said. “It is a good feeling when you can look around you and see probably the best running back in the NFL, a great quarterback, a veteran tight end, two great receivers. It is a good situation to be in. I’m just trying to work as much as I can.”
Matthews is expected to start off as just a slot receiver with the Eagles, as Kelly said after the draft he liked the idea of Matthews playing on the inside, where he can matchup against small cornerbacks. While he sounded excited about having a role with the Eagles, Matthews did not really agree with his head coach about facing smaller cornerbacks.
“You gotta be physical,” Matthews said of playing the slot. “There is a going to be a lot of big guys in there — linebackers, safeties moving up into the box. People say you get to go against some small nickels, but they don’t put anybody in there that isn’t big or stout. You gotta be able to play physical and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Playing just the slot is a big role change for Matthews, who was a one-man show in college. Matthews set multiple receiving records at Vanderbilt, becoming the all-time leader in catches and yards in the SEC. Now a rookie in Philadelphia, Matthews will not be asked to do as much — at least to start.
“You can come out here and do your job,” Matthews said of the difference with the Eagles. “That is the beautiful thing about it. At Vanderbilt, I had to do a lot of different things and play a lot of different positions. Now I am able to focus most of my attention on one thing and be great at that.”