Eagles Offensive Line May Be Solidifying With Youth Movement
Last year the Eagles offensive line was anything but stable, giving up 49 sacks – the fourth worst total in the league. The Eagles saw 10 different players start on the offensive line, eight if you throw out the meaningless last game. Part of that was due to injury, sure, but when you allow the fourth most sacks in the league, something’s got to be adjusted.
After a great deal of rotation early on in training camp, things seem to have stabilized since Ryan Harris, a free agent acquisition at right tackle, took the practice field. Jason Peters and Todd Herremans have been the left tackle and left guard, respectively, from the onset. With Winston Justice on the physically unable to perform list after offseason knee surgery, right tackle was a big question mark.
Harris is part of a youth movement on the right side of the line, the elder statesman of that group at 26 years of age. Danny Watkins, the Eagles first round pick, is 26 years old but has no NFL experience. While Jamaal Jackson is the current starter at center, rookie Jason Kelce is pushing him.
That leaves the door open for the center, right guard and right tackle combination to have a whopping 4 years of NFL experience with 34 starts combined – of course, all belonging to Harris. Jackson isn’t worried about the line’s experience, or lack there of.
“I don’t really look at it, I just see a group of guys trying to learn the system and trying to play together as a team,” Jackson said. “I really don’t look at, oh, well, this guy has this many years and that guy has that many years. You know, at the end of the day you’ve got to put it together on the field and make it work.”
Of course, if Jackson wins the starting spot at center, it will add a wealth of experience to the line. Either way, making it work is something the younger players are trying to do, and they’re certainly feeling that learning curve.
“There’s still a lot of things I’ve got to work on, so you know, just the schemes and the knowledge and just the technique,” Watkins said. “I guess you could say an umbrella of things I need to put together and just keep working on my skills.”
Watkins said he’s beginning to focus more on the physical technique than the mental side, but that he still has lots of work to do in both areas. While he’s struggled at times in training camp, Watkins hasn’t had any competition at his position.
The Eagles have Julian Vandervelde, a rookie fifth round pick, taking most of the second team snaps at right guard. Mike McGlynn, who started all but one game at center last year, is now listed second, but is considered to be battling for a roster spot, not a starting spot. Evan Mathis, a veteran who might have been more able to compete with Watkins, is listed at left guard and hasn’t taken any snaps with the first team.
Meanwhile, Jason Kelce has at center. The 23-year-old said that being given some reps with the starters has bolstered his confidence.
“I think any time they have confidence to throw you in there and see what they’ve got, that’s something like ‘OK, they think I can do this, so I think I can do this too,’” Kelce said.
So he’s feeling like he’s learned the scheme and mastered the mental side?
“Uh, yeah, until I screw up,” Kelce said with a smile. “Then it shows you how little you know.”
All of the newcomers on the offensive line have given credit to veterans like Jackson and McGlynn.
The entire line has talked a great deal about the work of new offensive line coach Howard Mudd.
“He’s very demanding, he’s a perfectionist, he doesn’t tolerate poor technique, he doesn’t tolerate mistakes,” Kelce said. “So when you have a very demanding coach, if you don’t perform well you’re going to get chewed out every single play, so it really makes you lock in and focus because you want to do it the right way every time.”
The 69-year-old has changed the Eagles’ technique on the line, favoring a style that allows the lineman to be more aggressive, especially in pass protection.
“It’s nice to be the aggressor sometimes,” Jackson said. “In our scheme, whether it was this year or last year, we use our passing game to be aggressive. This year we’re coming off the ball a lot more in the passing game and kind of like, taking the fight to the defense.”
That makes things a bit easier on the lineman and also can make it tougher for the defense to figure out if it’s a run or pass when the ball is snapped. Both bode well for the Eagles offense, which is full of talented skill players but had to overcome the offensive line play last year.
Out: Winston Justice (PUP – knee), Graham (PUP – knee), Collier (ankle), Jackson (sports hernia), Trevor Laws (hip flexor), Jeremy Maclin (illness) and Mike Patterson (head). DeSean Jackson also will not play due to not having practiced yet
In: Sinorice Moss (groin) will attempt to play through his injury, according to head coach Andy Reid.
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