Kevin Matthews had a leg up on the rest of Tennessee Titans’ rookies when they reported to the team this offseason.
If nothing else, he knew his way around the facility. The son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman and Titan legend Bruce Matthews, Kevin spent substantial time around the Titans locker room growing up.
“Every Saturday the older guys’ kids got to come up so I was always up here with the coaches’ sons and stuff like that with my brother,” Matthews recalled recently. “I was always up here during the seasons just hanging around.
“This is a very comfortable place for me. I spent a lot of time here; it was just something that I enjoyed.”
Dressing out for the franchise his father played with for 19 years has made Kevin’s NFL experience more than just the fulfillment of dreams. It has added an element of comfort and familiarity to the trial-by-fire nature of the NFL rookie process.
None of Bruce Matthews’ teammates are still with the team, but there are faces he recognizes among management.
“A lot of guys that were here when my dad was still playing before he retired in 2001 are still here,” Kevin said. “I’m still real close with all of them. They’ve seen me grow up and now that I’m playing for their team it’s a cool experience for all of us. It’s just something that I feel very blessed to come into a situation like this.”
The Titans signed Matthews as an undrafted free agent in April. He played center for Texas A&M and started every game his junior and senior seasons. Last fall he was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection.
“Every level that you step up—from high school to college, from college to the NFL there is always a change in the speed of the game,” Matthews said. “Here you know you’re going as hard as you can, obviously playing smart, but you’ve got to show something or do something that stands out. It’s definitely a faster game here. You’re expected to learn the plays faster and just be a professional about it.”
Adjusting to the NFL’s elite level of play is no small feat, even for a player with a football pedigree like Kevin Matthews.
There is a lot he can learn from his dad and uncle (Clay Matthews) but making the team this summer will be a challenge. Kevin says the best fatherly football advice he’s received regards proper rookie etiquette.
"Being a rookie he just told me to sit back and take what’s coming for me,” Matthews said. “Just to learn my roles, earn the respect of the vets and stuff like that. He told me what to expect in that aspect of joining the franchise. But there’s no, like, secrets to making the team or anything like that.”
Kevin says that ultimately, his father’s history with the team neither helps nor hinders his position. He can’t avoid the connection of being a Matthews on the Titans, but he knows that his run with the team will have to be his own.
“Nothing is easy,” he said. “I’m out here trying to find a role and make the team. I feel more comfortable than going into a situation where I didn’t know anybody, but there’s really no advantage or extra pressure because of what my dad’s done. The pressure is all coming from me, to make the team.”
Scouts don’t see all of Bruce’s physical gifts in Kevin. But what he lacks in foot-speed, he compensates for with in positioning and superior hands. He’s tapping into veteran minds to increase his football IQ as another advantage on the field.
“Fernando [Velasco] is a backup center/guard and that’s kind of what I’m doing so I come to him with a lot of questions,” Matthews said. “Eugene [Amano] I ask a lot just trying to pick his brain for some knowledge on what would help me be successful. They’ve helped out a whole lot and it’s helped clarify a lot of questions in my head.”
Kevin’s focus currently extends no further than doing what it takes to make the Titans’ roster. However he is aware of a potential matchup against his father’s current team, the Texans, where Bruce is now a coach.
“He’s very excited and happy for me,” Kevin said. ”He’s working with the Texans now on the O-line. They’re kind of our rivals so it’d be cool twice a year going out and playing against him.”