Eagles Hope New Look Line is Healthy in 2013
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New Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has his hands full. The Eagles unit was one of the worst in the NFL last season, but most of that was due to injuries to four of the Eagles five starters.
The offensive line Philadelphia hopes to have on the field Monday night against the Redskins could be one of the best in football - if they remain healthy.
At guard, Philadelphia has three different players who've started multiple games for the team over the previous two years competing for two starting spots with Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans the favorites to win the starting spots and former first-round pick Danny Watkins filling in at both guard spots as a back-up. Journeyman Allen Barbre was added for depth in the offseason and can play both guard and tackle. He's started seven of 32 games over six seasons.
Jason Peters is the only offensive tackle currently on the roster who is assured of starting week one against Washington, he'll be the left tackle. The right tackle is somewhat assumed to be rookie first round pick Lane Johnson, but the battle at that position consists of second year man Dennis Kelly and a bunch of journeymen and rookie free agents.
Kelly was selected in the fifth round of the draft last year whom Philadelphia started 10 games overall at both guard and tackle in his rookie campaign. Johnson was the teams first-round pick out of Oklahoma, his selection in the draft is a reflection of how bad the Eagles offensive line really was a season ago. Two undrafted rookies round out the ranks at the position: Michael Bamiro of Stoney Brook and Nic Prcell of Golden West college by way of New Zealand, are two interesting prospects to keep an eye on during camp. Ed Wang, Matt Kopa, Matt Tennant and rookie Matt Tobin will provide depth at the tackle position.
That's not to say Philadelphia is entirely lacking depth elsewhere on the roster. At center Dallas Reynolds stepped in 2012, starting 14 games after started Jason Kelce suffered a knee injury, and Reynolds was drafted to play guard and can provide more depth there as well. As for Kelce, he has been medically cleared for full participation at training camp, his return could be one of the biggest keys to the Eagles success on the offensive line in 2013.
While the Eagles have options, staying healthy gives them chance to make a major leap forward this season. After all, this was a line who lost four starters last season and played guys out of position just about every week. That being said, Philadelphia would prefer to go the whole season without learning about its depth at each postion because that would mean the starters hold up.
Two years ago Peters, a Pro Bowl starter, had the best season of any left tackle in the league. Almost as important: Peters played 42 games for the Eagles before suffering multiple Achilles injuries last offseason. Overall, he is a five-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle and maybe the teams best player when healthy.
Mathis has been one of the true finds of general manager Howie Roseman. Mathis was a former third-round pick of Carolina who was on the Bengals when the Eagles signed him as a free agent in 2011. Mathis helped anchor an injury-plagued Eagles o-line in 2012, as he was the only member of the unit to start all 16 games. He was awarded a five-year deal in the 2012 offseason that will keep him in Philadelphia through 2016.
Philadelphia could play the veteran Herremans at tackle or guard, but most likely, he will line up as the right guard after playing two seasons at right tackle. The Eagles also have their former first-round pick Watkins, who maybe in a different system could flash his potential that made him a first round pick two years ago. The one interesting guy is Kelly; last year, he should started at both guard and tackle, but his natural position is right tackle and he should give the Eagles a better swing tackle then last season when King Dunlap and Demetress Bell filled that role.
The Eagles signed the fourth overall pick, Lane Johnson to a four-year contract and hope that he is a perfect fit in Kelly;s system, and the fact the team picked him with the fourth overall pick with so many other glaring needs, shows the value Philadelphia sees in him. Johnson looked impressive during the team's offseason practices, and he's played both tackle positions at Oklahoma, starting 25 contests (13 at left tackle, 12 at right tackle), throughout his career. Training camp will be a proving ground for Johnson, but he is the favorite to win the right tackle position.