Andy Reid is right; his linebackers are young.

They range in age from 22 to 26, average out to 23.9 years of age, and are two years younger than the average age of the Eagles roster.

"They're just a young group," Reid said Friday, echoing a refrain he's only recently made. "We're young at safety, we're young at linebacker. Zero excuse on that - that's not what that is - that's reality."

Apparently, it took four months for reality to hit Reid. When the Eagles were signing free agents left and right during training camp - sometimes overstocking at positions like cornerback and wide receiver - the general feeling was they also had to add a veteran linebacker at some point.

They did not.

Instead, they stuck with their homegrown group of Casey Matthews, 22; Brian Rolle, 23; Keenan Clayton, 24; Jamar Chaney, 25; Akeem Jordan, 25; and Moise Fokou, 26. None were drafted higher than the fourth round. Only Jordan had more than two years of experience coming into the season.

Predictably - and it can be written as such because nearly everyone saw it coming - the Eagles linebackers have struggled all season. And so, Reid has started playing the youth card.

So does that mean, in hindsight, that he should have signed an experienced linebacker in light of the lockout and also to assist his young charges?

"I don't do that," Reid said about looking back. "We're teaching them, they're listening, learning, and getting better, so that's what it is."

It's sometimes difficult to decipher who is getting better and who isn't with the way defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has shuffled the deck at linebacker. The latest move has Matthews, who was benched in September, replacing Chaney in the nickel package for Sunday's game at Miami. There have been five different starting lineups and four different nickel packages at linebacker this season.

The lack of continuity at linebacker has been a running theme since Reid took over the Eagles 13 seasons ago - more so of late. Castillo's predecessor, Sean McDermott, substituted at linebacker so much that it sometimes seemed as if the defense didn't know who was on the field at what time.

Many teams rotate linebackers for matchup reasons, but the Eagles are forced to do it because they just don't have linebackers versatile enough to play on all three downs.

"You see the teams with really good linebackers or a good linebacker corps, and they don't come out of the game," Chaney said. "Of course, when you go to nickel you have the one linebacker come out of the game. But most of the teams, they keep those same guys out on the field."

Each of the Eagles linebackers said that not playing all three downs, as they did in college, takes some adjustment. Chaney has played all three downs for most of the season, but has struggled in pass coverage, making way for Matthews' return.

The rookie started the first two games at middle linebacker, was moved to weak side for one game, and was then benched, to the delight of many Eagles fans who had directed their ire toward him.

"Casey's earned the right to get back in there," Reid said, adding: "Like some of the other guys that took a step back to take a step forward, that's what we're doing with Casey."

It's up for debate if Matthews would have gone through that process had the Eagles brought in a veteran.

"This is my first year, so I don't know if that would help because he would be coming into a new system as well," Matthews said. "But it could have with him knowing what to expect."

Reid said his linebackers have been improving with each week, especially in pass coverage. But the bigger issue has been their ability to fill the wide-nine gaps in the defensive line and stop the run.

For years, the Eagles have spent their money on defense at the edges - cornerback and defensive end - and have drafted likewise. But the middle of Castillo's "D" has been a sieve. Reid hasn't drafted a linebacker higher than the third round since 2005. If he returns next season, could he finally expend a top pick on a linebacker?

"They probably will," Chaney said. "But you can't worry about that kind of stuff. You got to worry about putting it all out on the line."