Versatile Eagles O-Line Remains ‘Stout’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Sometimes fate can kick you in the groin.
That thesis was quite literal for Eagles All-Pro center Jason Kelce in London over the weekend when he was cleated in the "crown jewels" on the first offensive play of Philadelphia's win over Jacksonville.
From there the expression became figurative for Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, who had to play musical chairs up front in order to get Philadelphia to the finish line against the Jaguars and back to .500 (4-4) at the bye week.
Veteran Stefen Wisniewski, a long-time starter at center with both Oakland and the Jags earlier in his career, only needed to play one snap before Kelce recovered enough to return to the lineup. Wiz's day was hardly done, however.
First Lane Johnson went down early in the game with a sprained MCL forcing swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai into action at right tackle. Then, left tackle Jason Peters was placed in the concussion protocol with Vaitai flipping over to the left side and starting left guard Issac Seumalo kicking out to right tackle with Wisniewski being inserted at LG.
Things settled down a bit when Peters was ultimately cleared to return with Seumalo returning to left guard and Vaitai finishing the game for Johnson, who is expected to miss some time moving forward.
When the dust cleared Seumalo and right guard Brandon Brooks were the only ones to play the entire game (62-of-62 snaps). Kelce missed the snap from being cleated, Vaitai was at 55, Peters 43, Wisniewski 21 and Johnson played 7 before the knee injury.
"Early, when the new guy comes in, you want to make sure that he settles into the game," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said on Monday at the NovaCare Complex when discussing all the moving parts. "So you might call a run or two a little bit more, or maybe a quick pass or something like that to get him settled into the speed of the game, get caught up. After that, man, it’s still back on task at hand and maintaining the same gameplan."
In a league where at least a dozen teams can't put together five competent options on any given Sunday, Stoutland has amassed seven and tremendous versatility with his top three utilitymen -- Seumalo, Vaitai and Wiz.
“It’s a credit to the player and then it’s a credit to Coach Stoutland, Eugene [assistant offensive line coach Eugene Chung] and the guys for getting the next guy ready to go each week,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said on Monday at the NovaCare Complex. “It has been impressive to watch that whole thing take shape, because Isaac is out there playing right tackle, and he took no right tackle reps during the week, and now he’s playing right tackle, and then he has to go back and play left guard. Then Wiz is in in the game. Then Big V is in the game and finishes at right tackle.
“So with these guys, it’s important to have flexibility and versatility there.”
Most Eagles fans vilify players like Vaitai and Seumalo. While they're hardly stars the fact that Carson Wentz can throw for three touchdowns, still run the offense virtually unfettered and get to the finish line against one of the more talented front sevens in football speaks volumes.
Yes, Vaitai allowed backs on both sides -- first to Calais Campbell and then Yannick Ngakoue -- but when you place the performance in context and look around the rest of the league at his peers you're talking about a top-five swing tackle in the NFL, who has already by definition proven good enough to win a Super Bowl after finishing the 2017-18 campaign at left tackle after Peters went down with a torn ACL.
Wisniewski, meanwhile, can play any of the interior positions with little dropoff as a guy who boasts 101 NFL starts on his resume, including 24 at LG for the Eagles over the past three seasons.
The group remains as "Stout" as any in football and while you can never replace an All-Pro player like Johnson, the Eagles are better-equipped to do that than most.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen