He was booed. He was labeled a wasted draft pick. Even his family experienced the brunt of fan anger.

Casey Matthews hopes that a second chance, and more time to learn, will improve his standing with the Eagles and in the city.

Matthews has taken over as the middle linebacker in the Eagles' nickel package, gaining a more prominent role after spending most of the last nine weeks on the bench.

"It's another opportunity to go out there and show what I can do and take advantage of it this time," said Matthews, a fourth-round pick.

It's another move in a seemingly endless linebacker shuffle. Matthews was made the starting middle linebacker on his first day of training camp, but he wasn't ready for the role and was moved to the weak side in Week 3, then benched.

"I feel a lot more prepared. When [Brian Rolle] was put in, I was able to kind of step back and get an actual grasp of the defense," Matthews said. "When I was first in there, everything was on the run, and just trying to learn on the fly, it was tough."

Matthews became a lightning rod for criticism as the Eagles defense struggled.

"One of the earlier games, they harassed my family and made my fiancee cry," Matthews said. "It's frustrating, but that's how they are here. If you win, they'll love you, so I guess we have to turn things around and start winning again."

The base defense linebacking unit of Rolle, Jamar Chaney, and Akeem Jordan is unchanged.

Castillo stays focused

Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said he isn't worrying about reports that he has to go for coach Andy Reid to return next season.

"My job is to prepare for Miami. I feel like we have a good plan, and that is really the thing that I worry about," Castillo said Thursday.

"You work hard, you do things the right way, you do it with class, you treat people the right way, you outwork people, and as a coach you get your players to outwork your opponent," Castillo said. "When things get tough, that's what you go to."

To slide or not to slide?

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was happy to hear that quarterback Michael Vick said he would make an effort to avoid big hits. But he sounded skeptical.

"Well, we've discussed that since day one, so we'll see," Mornhinweg said. "I want him to get down underneath hits, I want him to get up and out on the sideline. . . . We'll see what happens with him in a game."

Rodgers-Cromartie returns

Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie expects to play Sunday despite being limited again in practice as he recovers from a high-ankle sprain and torn ligaments.

But it's unclear what his role will be. Castillo said the corner could be the top nickel back if he is ready to play, and Rodgers-Cromartie said he's ready to return to that role. But he balked at the idea of returning kickoffs, a suggestion floated by special-teams coordinator Bobby April.

"Bobby's not throwing me in that fire," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "I don't know what's wrong with Bobby right now."

Rodgers-Cromartie said he didn't want to absorb hits in his first game back, but might be open to returning kicks later in the year. He hurt his ankle running back kicks against Arizona, his first game ever handling that job, and missed the last three games.

In defense of DeSean

Mornhinweg said he is "absolutely" happy with the effort he's getting from under-fire receiver DeSean Jackson.

"For the last several weeks, he was just terrific. He was working hard with great preparation," Mornhinweg said. "He has never really faded from the hard work and preparation. He's been through a long year as well."

Extra points

Newly signed safety Tom Nelson will replace Colt Anderson on special-teams units. . . . Guard Danny Watkins (ankle) was listed as limited in practice Thursday but is expected to play. The same was true for Trent Cole (hand) and Cullen Jenkins (thumb). . . . Anderson underwent surgery this week to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Linebacker Moise Fokou (ankle) also had surgery. Both are out for the season.