Philadelphia Eagles Position Breakdown: Offensive Line


Last week we previewed the Philadelphia Eagles‘ Quarterbacks, and where they stand heading into training camp. Now, we’ll be switching gears and taking a look at the guys who are tasked with keeping the Quarterback on his feet, the Offensive Line.

The Eagles’ Offensive Line has been a point of controversy this offseason, seeing no additions during the draft or free agency, and then the subtraction of a previously valuable asset in Evan Mathis. While the line still employs several stalwarts in the form of Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, and Jason Kelce, there is room for skepticism as to whether the unit will be able to recapture its past successes. This skepticism isn’t necessarily reflective of the line as it stands now, but there is reason to believe that keeping the status quo will prove difficult.

Jason Peters has been an absolute steal since Andy Reid flipped a late 1st rounder for his services. A true franchise Left Tackle, Peters has been both durable (save for a a ruptured Achilles in 2012), and extremely productive, racking up a heinous amount of accolades during his Eagles tenure: 5 Pro Bowl, 2 first-team All-Pro, and 2 second-team All-Pro berths. Although it’s improbable that Peters sees a sharp decline in the immediate future, for a player that’s set to turn 34 in January, it’s fair to question how soon the inevitable decline might occur. Peters’ talent is undeniable, and he is truly a generational talent, however, he, like every player before him, will have to pay his due to Father Time. That being said, I’d wager that Peters retains form in 2015. Heading into training camp, Peters is still the man at Left Tackle.

Peters bookend, Lane Johnson, is a player that the team seems to be very excited about, and rightfully so. Johnson continues to grow into his role on the right side of the Offensive Line, and is becoming a star in his own right. His return from suspension in 2014 brought a noticeable boost to the OL’s performance, illustrating his continued progress and growing importance to the unit.

Johnson’s physical upside is not unlike his counterpart, Jason Peters, and gives him a frightening potential as a player that still has limited experience at the position. In light of his inexperience, Johnson has made it a point to work on the nuances of his game, as made evident by his work with Jay Glazer at Unbreakable. One of the few building blocks for the future on the line, Lane will continue to be an integral part of coach Jeff Stoutland’s operation, and barring injury or another suspension, will head into TC uncontested on the right side.

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The man in the middle, Jason Kelce, is entering his fifth season as a starter for the team since being drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 draft. One of the few Reid holdovers highly valued by the new regime, Kelce is a player that Chip Kelly and Jeff Stoutland trust implicitly. Tasked with calling protections and anchoring one of the team’s most important units, he will once again play a valuable role for the team, not only on the field, but off it as a cultural leader and veteran presence. At 27 years old, Kelce is just entering his prime as an NFL player, and is sure to challenge for a second consecutive Pro-Bowl nod in 2015. All things considered, Kelce is another player who will enter training camp uncontested, however, his status as a starter and prospective Pro-Bowler are contingent on his health, which has been undeniably spotty throughout his career.

Kelce’s health concerns are legitimate, and don’t garner the attention that they deserve. Much has been made of the lack of depth on the Eagle’s line, and the primary threat to maintaining the dominance that the unit has enjoyed may rest squarely on the health of Jason Kelce. As previously mentioned, Jason Peters has been steadfast in his ability to stay on the field; the only exception being a freak Achilles injury sustained while training at home. Lane Johnson has enjoyed a similarly clean bill of health over his Eagles’ tenure, only missing games as a result of suspension. Kelce, meanwhile, has missed time and played at less than 100% several times in recent years. In 2012, Kelce suffered a partially-torn MCL, and missed the final 14 games of the season. And after suiting up for a full slate of games in 2013, Kelce underwent sports hernia surgery, and missed 4 games in which the team went 2-2. Now, while Kelce is hardly a player considered to be injury prone, another bout with durability could get the critics chirping.

It is the team’s hope that Kelce will stay healthy in 2015, and contribute another Pro-Bowl caliber season. However, should Kelce miss substantial time, the team will likely have to turn to David Molk, who, although proved competent in relief last season, is a clear downgrade. Losing Kelce would be a big blow to a team that is already starting two fairly unknown commodities in Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin at its Guard spots. Starting a replacement level player between both Barbre and Tobin would be less than ideal, and lessen the impact of the formidable duo of Johnson and Peters. The ripple effect would threaten the cohesiveness and stability of the group, and could be potentially damaging to the team, making the front susceptible inside. Beyond the obvious physical limitations that Molk presents when compared to the hyper-athletic Kelce, he does not offer the same presence as a leader, or in calling protections. Overall, this is a situation that can hopefully be avoided, though I am not convinced it will be.

Speaking of Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin, that is not to say that there is no reason for optimism. The team is clearly high on the pair, considering they were willing to jettison a top-level player in Evan Mathis despite the lack of depth on the team. While neither player has much of an NFL resume’ to this point, they have both showed promise at times. Barbre performed very well in Peters’ stead — lined up across from Clay Matthews no less — in Green Bay 2 years ago. Meanwhile, Tobin saw a lot of praise last training camp before a myriad of injuries, most notably a pesky high-ankle sprain and concussion, limited his effectiveness. Both players have once again garnered the praise of Chip Kelly and the coaching staff, however, whether that praise proves justified remains to be seen. In the mean time, staring down the incumbent TC battle, Tobin and Barbre are poised to seize control of starting roles, though returning players such as Josh Andrews, Kevin Graf, Dennis Kelly, and the newly acquired Brett Boyko, figure to make the competition interesting. Boyko in particular, could provide a significant challenge, as he is a player that the staff is high on, considering the $20,000 bonus he was given as a priority UDFA.

Another player who was just recently thrown into the mix, John Moffitt, could provide further competition at Guard. Moffitt is a versatile option that has experience at both Center and Guard stemming back to his time at Wisconsin. How he shapes up in TC is a total unknown at this point, however, his noted versatility bodes well for his roster chances, as the team lacks compelling depth. Not only that, the fact that he comes with significant baggage, though he has allegedly recommitted himself and cleaned up his act, means that the team sees upside worth gambling on. Given the aforementioned injury concerns regarding Jason Kelce, and to a lesser extent, Barbre and Tobin (who both missed time with injuries in an admittedly small sample size), the addition of John Moffitt makes a lot of sense. Whether Moffitt truly challenges for a spot is totally up in the air, and will hinge entirely on his TC performance. At this point, I would consider Moffitt squarely on the roster bubble, though that is merely a guess.

For those of you who are interested, here’s a look at Moffitt in his college days.

The two Guard jobs should prove to be interesting to monitor throughout TC and into the season, and will likely be influx for some time. For the team’s sake, hopefully Barbre and Tobin distinguish themselves early, and the unit can enjoy the same durability and cohesiveness that it saw in 2013. Otherwise, fans could be staring down a disappointing season for one of the team’s top units.

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