Eagles’ Forgotten Man is Trying to Master the O-Line
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Taylor Hart was one of the many Oregon players brought into the Eagles' program when Chip Kelly was running things and the 6-foot-6 former fifth-round pick's future was clearly mapped out.
Eventually Hart would develop into a five-technique defensive lineman who could occupy two blockers in Kelly's preferred 3-4, read-and-react defense.
By the time Kelly was fired and replaced with Doug Pederson for the 2016 season, Philadelphia had plans to go back to its more traditional 4-3 defense and Hart seemed ill-suited for that, not bulky enough to handle the nose and not athletic enough to give Jim Schwartz what he wants as a pass rusher from the under tackle or three-technique.
Hart was released by the Eagles at the final cutdown in September of last year and picked up on waivers by you guessed it, Kelly and the San Francisco 49ers.
This time Hart lasted less than two months with Chip and was back on the street just as the Eagles needed some depth on the interior of their defensive line due to a knee injury suffered by Bennie Logan. A good teammate and class act, Hart got the call and was back in Philadelphia.
As things progressed and Logan got healthy, the injury bug settled on the offensive line. That, coupled with the suspension of right tackle Lane Johnson, gave Philadelphia an idea, why not give Hart some reps with the scout team O-Line?
Hart's frame screams offensive tackle and his athleticism, considered below average for the DL is all of a sudden a positive on the other side of the football.
"I might have looked little too good for how I should have looked," Hart admitted. "Then, the idea [of moving] kind of spread."
By the time the 2017 OTAs started Hart's move to the offensive line was a permanent one and even though the odds are against him, he's embraced the new position, one he hasn't played since high school back in Oregon.
Alejandro Villanueva, a 6-foot-9 Army product, got to know Hart when both were rookies at the same position in training camp back in 2014. A unique player who toiled at left tackle, on the defensive line and even at wide receiver for the Black Knights, Villanueva was getting a look at the five-technique by the Eagles.
Villanueva didn't stick but eventually landed across the state in Pittsburgh where he bulked up, moved back to offense and is now the Steelers' starting left tackle. His old friend is now the template for Hart.
"[Alejandro] gave me some tips on things he did to help him," Hart said. "He did the same thing that I'm trying to do here. He kind of just told me how it is."
The numbers game is a difficult line for Hart, who has been spending most of his time at right tackle during OTAs.
Although Jason Peters has been absent this spring, the veteran Pro Bowler is entrenched at left tackle with Johnson on the other side. From there, the Eagles love the promise of second-year players Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Dillon Gordon. Meanwhile, veteran Matt Tobin, who has logged a lot of snaps for this team on the outside, is still around.
"I've got a long road ahead of me," Hart admitted. "We haven't even put on the pads yet, so I got a lot of work and fundamentals I need to work on."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen