With less than two weeks remaining before the season starts, rookie Cliff Matthews is one of many Atlanta Falcons fighting for a job.
The seventh-round draft pick out of South Carolina is part of a deep group battling for playing time and roster spots at defensive end behind the first-tier trio of John Abraham, Ray Edwards and Kroy Biermann.
The Falcons must trim their 80-man roster to 53 players on Sept. 3, so Thursday's final preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens looms large for Matthews, who has already survived two rounds of cuts and shown flashes of playmaking ability in the first three games.
The self-described "country boy" spoke with Times sports editor Brent Holloway after Tuesday's practice.
Question: There's a deep group of defensive ends on this team. Where do you see yourself fitting in, and what are your goals for the season?
Answer: Well, I guess my first goal is to make the team. I'm just taking it one day at time, one step at a time and giving it everything I've got.
Q: When you ask people the biggest difference between college and the NFL, they always say the speed of the game. Can you explain that a little more? Are there things you could do in college that you can't quite get away with in the NFL?
A: I really don't know. But like you said, the speed is different. Everything's faster. I don't know how to explain it.
Q: You had a lot of success at South Carolina. On the pro level, what do you see as your biggest strength?
A: You know, I was pretty decent at South Carolina, I guess. I think one of my biggest strengths is just making plays. I'm a decent, average pass rusher, but I'm going to continue to work hard to try to get better.
Q: What would you say has been the biggest thing you've learned so far as a pro?
A: Probably the biggest thing I've learned is patience. You have to take it one day at a time. You can't learn it all in one day, you know. Just got to keep striving and moving forward a little bit every day.
Q: Who's the best offensive lineman you've ever faced at any level?
A: That's a good question. Probably Michael Oher. He was really good. As a matter of fact, I think he plays for the Ravens.
Q: That's right, he does. I guess it's been a while since you've gone against him. Were you a freshman when you played against him.
A: I was actually a sophomore. We went to Ole Miss that year.
Q: How about predictions for the Gamecocks this year?
A: I'm going to be honest with you, I'm not real good with predictions. But I want to wish the Gamecocks a bunch of success. I wish that they'd win the SEC. I'm a diehard Gamecock fan, and if I had everything to do over again, I'd do it the same.
Q: So growing up in South Carolina, were you always a fan?
A: I was really just a regular kid. I loved basketball.
But over time, I grew to love the Gamecocks.
Q: What's the No. 1 thing you like to do off the field that fans may not know about? Have any hidden talents?
A: There's little things I do on the side, but I'm not really all that talented. I like to play golf, I fish a little bit, that's about it. I'm just a simple country boy.