Only a couple more sleeps till the rookies report to training camp on Monday. First practice for the rookies is on Tuesday. Vets report Thursday with the full time opening practice on Friday. Exciting times, people! Next up in our training camp preview is the offensive line. Can this unit bounce back from injuries and an abysmal 2012 campaign to return to a unit of strength for the 2013 Eagles?
Michael Bamiro, Allen Barbre, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Dennis Kelly, Matt Kopa, Evan Mathis, Nate Menkin, Jason Peters, Nic Purcell, Dallas Reynolds, Matt Tennant, Matt Tobin, Julian Vandervelde, Ed Wang, Danny Watkins
53 Man Roster Prediction: Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Dennis Kelly, Danny Watkins, Allan Barbre, Dallas Reynolds
Opening Day Starters Prediction: Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson
In 2012 the Philadelphia Eagles offensive line had just about the worst luck you can imagine. The Eagles lost premier left tackle Jason Peters before the season even started to a ruptured Achilles. Needless to say this was devastating — but just the beginning.
Free agent pickup Demetress Bell was a disaster from the beginning. Kelce tore his MCL and ACL in Week 2. Todd Herremans was shut down in Week 9 with a broken finger. Even with the injuries, 2011 first-round pick Danny Watkins couldn’t find the field.
King Dunlap, Dallas Reynolds, and Dennis Kelly all struggled in relief. Evan Mathis was the only starter who was able to stay healthy. While Mathis did perform at a high level, it was shrouded by the terrible play of the guys around him. Jake Scott was signed off the street and performed admirably in his starts.
Losing three-out-of-five projected starters is something no offensive line in the NFL is built to withstand. It was a major reason for the Eagles struggles in 2012 — injured quarterbacks and running backs, turnovers and lack of red zone points.
The Eagles are hoping this unit can bounce back to form and become a strength of the team like it was in 2011 and was supposed to be in 2012. Besides the guys coming back from injuries, the Eagles spent their fourth-overall draft pick on tackle Lane Johnson, who will upgrade two positions, allowing Todd Herremans to return home to his guard spot.
The starting five is basically set. One big thing to watch for in training camp from these guys is how they all look coming off injuries. Peters and Herremans have been good to go for a few months now. Mathis recently had surgery to clean up some stuff in his ankle and should be good to go for camp. Kelce was eased in to minicamp but is expected to be ready to go on Friday.
Is Peters still going to be a premier left tackle even coming off an achilles he ruptured not once, but twice? How will an undersized Jason Kelce look coming off a major knee injury? Will he have the power to move 320-plus pound nose tackles?
Lane Johnson’s development will also be key to watch. Chip eased Lane into the starting line up during mini camp. He has been regularly described as “athletic” and “raw” — which is eerily reminiscent of words used to described Danny Watkins.
Is Johnson a project for Kelly?
To use your first draft pick, one of the highest this franchise has had in a long time, on a
developmental player would not be a great start for Chip Kelly in the eyes of Philly fans and media. Although this team may not be able to put a deep playoff run together early, throwing in the towel is not an option either. If Lane is unable to start Week 1, look for Dennis Kelly to fill in, but this is not something I expect.
Battles for back up spots will be something to watch in camp. With this being the first offseason with Chip Kelly and new offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, it is hard to get a read on exactly what they’re looking for in their guys. At Albama, Stoutland always had the cream of crop to pick from. His lineman were big and nasty maulers who regularly taken high in NFL drafts. It will be interesting to see if he continues this trend in the NFL, but with the selection of Lane Johnson it seems Kelly and Stoutland are leaning towards the more athletic guys for the zone blocking scheme.
I think you can lock in Dennis Kelly as a backup tackle. While he did struggle last year, he was placed in a bad situation as a late round rookie to start in the NFL when he was drafted very raw. He did show glimpses of being a capable player, and reports out of minicamp are that he looks stronger this year which is positive for Kelly. I’m not sure if he’s capable of being an effective left tackle, so it will be interesting to see what contingency the Eagles have for if Peters were to get hurt again. You could move Johnson or possibly Herremans over to left tackle, but any combination would still downgrade the talent significantly.
I give Danny Watkins another year to see if he can restart his NFL career under a new coach and become a serviceable guard in the NFL. Watkins and Mudd got off to a bad start and Watkins could never play his way out of the dog house. He was unable to catch on to Mudd’s scheme but perhaps a guy like Stoutland, who is used to teaching younger raw players, could get Watkins to be an NFL backup. There is a very real possibility that this simply does not happen, and since Chip does not have any real ties to Watkins, he could find himself as a camp casualty.
The other two back up spots I have are for Allen Barbre and Dallas Reynolds, the only guys that have NFL starts. These spots are completely wide open and until we understand Kelly and Stoutland it is hard to predict who they will go with.
While Reynolds started games last year, he did not perform well. Matt Tennant will have a chance to unseat him as the back up center. Barbre has bounced around the league but has experience at guard and tackle and could stick here in Philly.
Also keep an eye out on undrafted rookie tackle Michael Bamiro, who the Eagles threw quite a bit of guaranteed money at to lure him to here. He’s a massive kid at 6’8 and was projected to be a mid round pick if he had not chosen to back for his senior year. The NCAA decided he was not eligible for that year, and since this was decided after both the draft and the supplemental draft, Bamiro became a UDFA and picked the Eagles over 20+ other teams.
With the emphasis Chip Kelly will put on the running game and a fast paced hurry up offense, the line will be instrumental in the success of the team this year. Chip needs this unit to return to previous form but he also needs them to stay healthy. Finding a balance in training camp to allow this to happen will be interesting to watch.