RICHMOND – When the Redskins kick off the preseason Thursday in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans, the game will represent a homecoming for Kevin Matthews, who is working to earn a spot on Washington’s 53-man roster as a backup center.
The 6-foot-3, 309-pound Matthews got his start in the league in 2010 by signing with Tennessee as an undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M. There, he hoped to follow in the footsteps of his father, Hall of Fame guard and long-time Houston Oiler/Tennessee Titan Bruce Matthews. Bruce Matthews served as offensive line coach for the Houston Texans in 2009 and 2010, and then joined Tennessee’s staff in the same capacity in 2011 and still holds that position.
After spending the bulk of his first two seasons on the Titans’ practice squad, Kevin Matthews played 14 games in 2012, starting two of them, and then signed with Washington this past offseason. Here, Matthews believes he may have found the ideal situation. The Redskins’ zone blocking schemes are similar to those he played in at Texas A&M, and Mike Shanahan reminds him a lot of his first NFL coach, Jeff Fisher – who happens to be one of Shanahan’s best friends.
“They’ve both been in the league a long time, and they’re going to treat you like men, and as long as you give them respect, they’ll give you respect, and I think that goes a long way with the players,” Matthews said. “And [offensive line coach Chris] Foerster has been in the NFL for 20 years, and I could take his advice just as easily as I would take my dad’s.”
On fitting the mold of the type of linemen Shanahan and Foerster look for in their system, Matthews said, “I feel like I’m a pretty versatile offensive lineman. I’ve been playing only center in camp, but I can play some swing guard. I feel like I’m not one of those guys that is going to drive you 10 yards off the ball, but I’m a quicker guy with fast feet and I’m going to be able to use my angles to get my blocks down, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do here. As you’ve seen, we try to get outside and reach the perimeter and stuff like that, so that fits me well.”
Matthews hails from a football family. His grandfather Clay Matthews Sr. played for the 49ers in the 1950s, his uncle, Clay Matthews Jr. was a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the Browns and Falcons, and his cousin Clay Matthews III ranks as one of top pass-rushers in the league for the Packers.
That lineage can prove both a blessing and a curse, Matthews says. But the pressure or expectations that come with his name come moreso from himself and others, not from his family members.
“My dad never put any pressure on me to do it. He would’ve never made me play football if I didn’t want to. I wanted to, and so he said, if you’re going to do it, you’re going to give it your all. The pressure is all put on myself by me. I want to be able to follow in the footsteps and continue the quote, unquote Matthews legacy. It can be an advantage, because people could be like, ‘Oh, he’s a Matthews.’ But at the same time, it could be a disadvantage because they might have expectations for you that might be a little – I wouldn’t say unreachable, because it’s been reached – but not everybody does what my dad and cousin and my uncle have all done so far.”
Having been around football all his life, Matthews he knows the best approach he should take to his opportunity with the Redskins: Make the 53-man roster, and then continue working to take gradual steps forward in his career.
“Obviously, just prove to the guys that I’ve got something to help this team succeed,” Matthews says. “The goal is always to make the team, and you could never say you’ve reached your goal, because there’s always something better. You could be a Pro Bowler, and then back-to-back Pro Bowler, and all-pro. I’m not saying I’m going for something and I have to start Day 1. That’s my goal, and I want to do that, but my initial goal is to make the 53-man roster.”
Solid in one-on-one drills and in team drills through the first part of camp, Matthews looks to further impress upon his coaches the need to include him on that 53-man roster by playing well in the preseason. Thursday’s homecoming will give him a special first opportunity to do so.
“It’s always special any time you go back to a place where you played for three years, and my dad’s the offensive line coach there, and you have friends there,” he said. “There’s emotions with any game, but you just have to keep them in check and focus on going out and doing your job. That’s what I’ll try to do.”
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at email@example.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.
● Tuesday’s second practice is at 3:20 p.m. Wednesday, the team is off, and Thursday they are in Tennessee for the preseason opener. Camp in Richmond resumes Saturday. If you’re headed to Richmond, check our our guide to training camp for tips on getting autographs, where to park and things to do after the session is over.
More on the Redskins and NFL:
D.C. Sports Bog: Snyder on Griffin, Richmond and expectations for 2013