BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Matt Toeaina is not the kind of person to make excuses, By Toeaina's own admission, his fifth NFL season is off to an uncharacteristically slow start after he started a combined 22 games at nose tackle the past two years. The veteran defensive lineman has been practicing with a fractured hand since camp began in late July, but he refuses to blame the injury for his shortcomings on the field.
"My hand is feeling better, but it's not because of my hand that I haven't been the player that the coaches need me to be," Toeaina said. "But my hand is better so hopefully I put something better out there [for the coaches to see].
"They want to see more of a sense of urgency ... like when I came out two years ago and had a good camp. I just need to continue to show that powerful, explosive player that they know I can be."
Statistically speaking, Toeaina's best season came in 2010 when he played in all 16 games a recorded 33 tackles and 2.0 sacks. Although he started a career high 12 games last year, Toeaina's numbers declined after he missed four games due to a sore knee. Still, Toeaina did open camp as the starting nose tackle until he got passed up by 2011 second-round draft choice Stephen Paea in the week leading up to the first preseason game.
But with a sprained ankle expected to sideline Paea for the next 1-2 weeks, the door is open again for Toeaina to improve his standing on the defense.
"I just need to get better," Toeaina said. "Stephen deserves the No. 1 spot, so I know what I need to do to try and get back there. If not, at least get in the rotation. We're going to have a strong rotation. But I know I'm going to be receiving more reps with the first team, so it's definitely a good time for me to get better."