Let’s start this off the way the Eagles did yesterday; by cutting some dead weight. Word came down Wednesday that the Eagles had severed ties with possibly the most disappointing free agent signing of the last couple season’s bevy of disappointing free agent signings, Demetress Bell.
Bell, who was signed quickly after Jason Peters’ offseason Achilles injury, was expected to slide right into Howard Mudd’s athletic blocking scheme as the blindside protector. But he failed miserably to be even a competent starting NFL left tackle and lost his job to King Dunlap before training camp ended.
I think it’s safe to say there aren’t any Eagles fans losing sleep over what is most likely the first of many cuts to come this offseason. But if Demetress Bell is (was) your favorite player and you need some cheering up…I can only offer this. Hopefully it helps.
There was some question after the firing of Andy Reid if the lighter, more athletic blockers the team had come to covet during the Howard Mudd years, like Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis, would fit into whatever scheme the new coach would employ. Luckily for them, that coach turned out to be Chip Kelly.
Kelly loves athleticism and a mean streak in his offensive linemen. He wants to be as physical and direct as possible. There’s no going around the opponent. Just through him.
Here’s an excerpt of Kelly describing something he refers to as a bust block: “We want to get off the ball and be a physical, downhill-running football team. This is not a finesse play. We teach our offensive linemen a play we call the bust block. The idea is to bust their sternums up against their spines on every play. We want to come off the ball, create a double-team, knock the crap out of the defender, and deposit him in the linebacker’s lap.”
Of course, as has been said ad nauseum, Chip’s not just going to take his entire Oregon offense and transplant it in Philadelphia. But I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that fundamentals such as this; the desire for linemen to be tough, physical and play downhill, isn’t going to change.
When it comes to the personnel to employ this hard and heavy scheme, the Eagles are actually pretty set for the most part. Other than running back, offensive line may be the most stable position group, which is crazy when you consider how bad the line played last year. But like Jimmy Kempski over at Blogging the Beast showed, the Eagles starters on the offensive line missed a mind boggling amount of snaps last year. So, of course some (Ok, a lot) of the return to dominance (or at least competence) is dependent upon the return from injury of at least 60 percent of last season’s projected starters.
Jason Peters (Achilles), Jason Kelce (MCL/ACL) and Todd Herremans (Cuboid bone) each will be returning to the line up and hopefully solidifying what was one of the poorest performing groups on the team.
While there is a bit of projection involved there, Peters was dominant before the injury and, even if he returns at 75%, and even though he’ll be over 30, is still an above average left tackle.
Kelce is young and intelligent. The concern with him is that his game is predicated on speed, agility and leverage. An ACL injury can affect that. He injured himself early enough in the year though that he should be ready to roll by sometime around training camp.
Todd Herremans’ case is a little more complicated because he was playing pretty poorly at right tackle before the injury, leading some to speculate whether or not he might be moved back to right guard, where he excelled for many years prior to swinging out to right tackle (I know he played some tackle during his rookie year but that was due to injury and not necessarily his play).
In terms of starters, it’s pretty safe to say that the left side of the line is set with Jason Peters at left tackle returning from injury, Evan Mathis, one of the most underrated guards in the league and the only projected starter from last season to play the entire year returning to left guard and Jason Kelce continuing his post-ACL injury ascent to man the center spot and lead the line.
Where things start to get cloudy is right guard and right tackle. Both of these spots are dependent on what the Eagles do in the draft and free agency. If, at #4 in the first round the Eagles take Luke Joeckel out of Texas A&M or Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan, then Herremanns would slide over from right tackle to right guard, and let the draft pick start their career outside on the right before eventually taking over for Peters on the left a few years from now.
This would give the Eagles a strong and athletic line. If they don’t address the line early or at all in the draft though, look for Dennis Kelly, last years rookie fifth round pick out of Purdue and a fairly pleasant surprise, to battle it out with Herremans for right tackle, with Danny Watkins (The forgotten (fire)man) doing anything and everything he can to fulfill his draft status and potential at right guard.
Which is another interesting change I foresee in the Chip Kelly era: Danny Watkins is going to have a chance to become a pretty damn good lineman.
He’s got all the physical tools. Some question his motor, but with a coach like Chip Kelly coming in wanting to build a program on fundamentals and doing a few things really, really well to the point where your opponent just can’t stop you even though they have an idea of what you’re going to do, I see Watkins coming into his own a bit here.
Oh, and running the ball. Did I mention running the ball? Because Watkins is a true road grader; he wants to get his hands on the guy across from him and drive him into next week. The biggest mistake people make when talking about Chip Kelly’s offense is saying that it’s “finesse” or gimmicky.
It’s not either one of those things. It’s a line up, put a man on a man, and knock the crap out of the guy across from you. It’s tough, hard-nosed football centered around finding creative ways to run.
A perfect fit for Danny Watkins’ skill set.
As for back-ups and aging veterans, don’t expect many to stick around. Jake Scott did the best he could after being picked up 3/4′s of the way through the season last year, but he’s 31 and there’s a reason he was languishing on his couch for most of the season. King Dunlap is a serviceable starter and filled the role of swing tackle admirably. But with the way Dennis Kelly played last year (And let’s face it, the way King played last year), don’t expect Dunlap back in midnight green.
Assuming that an assortment of back ups and unknowns on the roster such as Alan Barbre, Matt Kopa, Nate Menkin, Dallas Reynolds, Matt Reynolds, Matt Tenant and Julian Vandervelde will be let go as well, the Eagles needs for this position group lie squarely in the “depth” category, except of course if there is a tackle too good to pass up in the early rounds of the draft.
Alright, folks. That’s all for now. Let’s talk QB next, shall we?