Offseason Primer: Eagles Offensive Line

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll take a position-by-position, player-by-player look at the Eagles’ roster. Today, we break down the offensive line. If you missed yesterday’s post on the wide receivers, click here.

YEAR IN REVIEW

Jason Kelce – Coming off a promising rookie campaign, Kelce suffered a knee injury in the second game of the season against the Ravens. Considering his game is based on his athleticism, we’ll have to monitor his rehab progress in the spring and summer. But barring any major setbacks, pencil Kelce in as the starting center in 2013.

Evan Mathis – He didn’t make the Pro Bowl, but the veteran left guard turned in the best season of his career. That’s impressive, considering he was playing with a rotating cast of characters next to him at center and left tackle. Mathis was the only Eagles offensive lineman to start every game last season. He played at a high level and will continue to provide stability next season.

Danny Watkins – Things went from bad to worse for Watkins in his second season. He started six games before being sidelined with what Andy Reid called a “chronic” ankle injury. Even when Watkins got healthy, he was kept off the field in favor of journeyman Jake Scott. According to EaglesCap.com, the Eagles would be on the hook for $2.15M if they cut Watkins before next season. The question is no longer: Will he live up to the expectations of a first-round pick? It is now: What role can he play on your roster? Perhaps Chip Kelly thinks Watkins is still salvageable. Maybe he’ll peg him as a backup. Or maybe he’ll get rid of him altogether.

Jason Peters -He first underwent surgery in April, but Peters re-injured his Achilles in May and had to have a second surgery. In 2011, Peters was sensational. Even if he gets back to 75 percent of the player he was, you probably have yourself an above-average left tackle.

Todd Herremans – His injury occurred on November 5. Herremans sustained a dislocated bone, some fractures and torn ligaments in his right foot. Back in December, he said he doesn’t anticipate missing OTAs or mini-camps. Herremans’ 24 starts the last two seasons have come at right tackle. But the truth is, he was not playing well at that spot last year before getting injured. There’s a possibility he gets moved back inside to guard (more on that below).

Dallas Reynolds – Like the rest of the backup offensive linemen, he got his chance and struggled. Reynolds was out of practice-squad chances and ended up starting 14 games. You can’t fault his effort, but the Eagles will likely look to upgrade its offensive line depth before 2013.

King Dunlap – He started 13 games last year and was up-and-down. Dunlap certainly had his share of issues, but he’s a career backup so any assessment has to be based on a fair set of expectations. Going forward, the guess is that the Eagles will sign or draft someone with higher upside. Dunlap is a free agent. Remember, the Eagles showed no interest in signing him last year until Peters went down in the spring.

Jake Scott – He’s also a free agent. Scott started seven games and played OK. He’ll turn 32 in April and started 112 straight games from 2005 to 2011. If I’m the Eagles, I’d at least explore the possibility of bringing him back as a reserve. In the end, though, they might just opt for someone younger who can be developed.

Dennis Kelly – Initially thought of as a project, Kelly ended up starting 10 games as a rookie. The fifth-round pick saw action at guard and tackle, performing better at the latter. He had some good moments sprinkled in, but struggled quite a bit. Perhaps that was to be expected. Kelly will have to compete for a roster spot as a backup this offseason.

Demetress Bell – The Eagles were aggressive in signing Bell after the Peters injury, but he turned out to be a disaster, starting just four games all season. His days in Philadelphia are over.

Other guys who are on the roster but didn’t see significant action last year: Matt Kopa, Nate Menkin, Matt Reynolds, Matt Tennant, Julian Vandervelde.

LOOKING AHEAD

On paper, this unit actually has a chance to once again be a strength if Peters, Herremans and Kelce all come back healthy.

Tim wrote recently about what Kelly is looking for out of his offensive linemen. I recently spoke to Kelce, who said he’s had numerous conversations with the Eagles’ new head coach and likes what he’s hearing.

“I’m pretty excited about the whole situation in general because I’m very familiar with the spread style of offense I think he’s probably going to institute,” Kelce said. “I did a lot of that in college. Basically, in my opinion, it makes an offensive line’s job just so much easier. I’m excited about everything, and once they get a coach in here, I’ll be excited to see what he says.”

There are still a lot of unknowns about what Kelly is going to do offensively. And he’s yet to name an offensive line coach. If he plans on bringing his up-tempo attack to the NFL, the offensive linemen will have to be in great shape. That’s especially important this year with three of the five starters potentially coming off of injuries.

From a personnel standpoint, the key question is: Where will Herremans play? I touched on this above, and some have pointed out previously that Herremans is making tackle money. But he’s due to make $4.3M next season, according to EaglesCap.com. That doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable amount for an above-average guard. Mathis is scheduled to make $4M. And Ben Grubbs has a base salary of $5.2M.

In other words, I don’t think this will be a financially-based decision. There are some highly-rated tackles in April’s draft, such as Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson. All are expected to be first-round picks. If Howie Roseman deems one of them the best player available when the Eagles pick, he shouldn’t hesitate with his choice.

As for free agency, there are some intriguing names out there like Denver’s Ryan Clady and Cincinnati’s Andre Smith. But both players are expected to stay put. Other free-agent options include Chiefs tackle Branden Albert, Dolphins tackle Jake Long and Bills guard Andy Levitre.

While I’m sure the Eagles will explore all their options, I’d be surprised if they made a huge splash on the offensive line in free agency. That could change if one of the injured players suffers a setback in their rehab, but otherwise, the plan will likely be to add a veteran or two for depth and build through the draft.

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  • http://twitter.com/ScottJ610 Scott J

    We should draft a tackle and play him at guard, or switch him with Herreman’s. Watkins is history.

  • Kushan Patel

    I have a bad feeling about this O-Line and am nervous. Everybody is saying that it will be a unit of strength again, but I’m not so sure. Peters tore the Achilles twice and is aging. Herremans is getting older and has been steadily declining, in my opinion, in addition to coming back from a serious foot injury. Kelce, being undersized, relies on his athleticism so the ACL recovery makes me nervous, though he does have the added benefit of being young. Evan Mathis is good, but he’s getting older. It is very possible that he could miss time because of injury next year or we could start to see his decline. Obviously, we can’t rely on Watkins.

    Not the best analogy here, but I think you can make a comparison to the Steelers D (or even the Ravens D). You could see their decline this year. I’m willing to bet the same will happen to the Bears D in the 2013 season. We need to draft and develop a couple young O-lineman this year to stay ahead of the curve. I wouldn’t rely on some of these older starters as fixtures going forward.

    • http://www.philthycanuck.com/ Adam

      Not so sure I agree with all this stuff but I can see your concerns.

      Peters was hands down, in my opinion, the best left tackle in the NFL. Your concerns are valid, but I think even if Jason is at 80-90% of what he was in the past, he will still be one of the better LT’s in the league.

      I think Kelce will do great in Chip’s system, as he is a cerebral player who is quick and can attack. Again, the ACL recovery is a valid point.

      As far as your point against Mathis goes, yes, he could very well be injured next season. Any person who steps on the football field, be it Mathis or that little Asian dude snapping pictures on the sidelines, runs the risks of getting hurt. But from what I’ve observed Mathis has a great training regiment, and is in the best shape of his career (hence his recent success). You have contingencies in place for the potential injury, but it’s a risk you take playing this game.

      I don’t completely agree with your comparison. It’s tough to compare one unit and entire defense, there are way too many variables that can affect how a defense performs. We do have some young guys drafted and developing, like Dennis Kelly. Obviously he didn’t have a great performance last year but got some valuable reps and could be a piece they like going forward.

      I think we have a skilled group of offensive linemen here, and yes they are ageing, but the problem with the Bears D and the Ravens D is they had guys that were way more over the hill than our line. Guys like Urlacher, Lewis, and Reed are still great players, but not near as good, and people still expected them to play like they did 5 years ago.

      One of the most valuable traits in an offensive line, at least in my opinion, is continuity. When a group of guys play together they learn their traits, their strengths/weaknesses and how to play around them. I think this is a very cohesive unit when healthy and I look forward to what they can do next year when they get healthy.

      All this being said, you can never have too many quality offensive linemen. If we draft some then I’m fine with that!

      /end rant

      • Kushan Patel

        All your points are equally valid. My overall point from my previous statement was that we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that this O-Line will be great. In fact, I posit that they will still have their struggles and be average at best next season, maybe even below average due to the reasons mentioned above (injuries, age, etc). They will certainly not be a top 5 unit and I think they might fail to even be top 10.

        • D3Keith

          Certainty is absurd.

          First, I agree they should draft OL, at No. 4 or somewhere very high. I would be okay adding more prospects — you don’t want to count too heavily on Peters, Herremans, Kelce and Watkins, although you know Mathis is in there.

          If you add Joeckel or Fisher, then you have six players plus Kelly and you need maybe one more interior backup who can play center, and one more player anywhere on the line.

          Nobody has any idea how these guys are going to respond to Chip’s offense, or to their various health issues and career struggles, so I’d rather have more talent on board to mix and match with than less. But there’s no guarantee it can’t be a very good line if all the pieces are back to normal, the No. 4 pick is OL, and they are run-heavy with LeSean and Bryce.

  • Bebin Abraham

    I think drafting luke or fisher with the first pick would be ideal..gives us a RT for now and in a yr or two Peters replacement

  • 3 Finger Lenny

    Big Todd is cooked

  • The Guru

    Now I’m not saying Watkins can play, but I’d give him one more chance in this system instead of Howard Mudd’s absurd system. Remember, this is a guy with only 4 years of experience, he played tackle in college, and was considered a great run blocker. Reid asked him to pass block 50 times a game at a position he never played before (pure genius). And, he did play in the spread option with RGIII at Baylor so he does have some experience in this type of offense.

    • D3Keith

      I agree that even if you don’t pencil Watkins in to start, you don’t cut him. With the offense expected to be drastically different, guys with talent might respond to Kelly’s uptempo, run-heavy scheme. Camp should be interesting.

      • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

        In Kelly’s system or any zone blocking scheme you’ll need linemen who can move and get out of their stance and around the end quickly, .

        Save Peters, I’ve not seen any of the Eagles linemen with good foot speed who can consistently get that job done. If the Eagles get back to being a playoff team, not many, if any of the current linemen will be here.

        • bsn

          I think you’re forgetting about Mathis.

          • UncleCarm

            I saw Jake Scott getting out in front also.

  • whiskeybill

    Peters is a 300+ pound guy coming off of two Achiles tendon tears in a year. We will be lucky if he is at 60% this year. While you can call it lucky that it happened way before the season even started I would not be enthusiastic about relying on him to be the anchor of this line next year. We need to draft a tackle in the first round this year.

  • http://profiles.google.com/wydok42 Scott Korin

    ProFootBallTalk is reporting Bell has been cut.

  • metaReign

    Find some free agents to spot both Peters and Herrmann, so the medical team can monitor their progress.

    I’d like both of them out on the field, at a consistant level, but not at the price that it will cause them to miss critical playing time, far as the OL is concerned.
    Adding 1, maybe 2 from the draft and a free agent could do the tricks. In a run-based system the OL will be ask to push across the LOS, not just anchor and shove defenders into each other, this requires alot of concentration with leg/foot coordination against the bulk they are up against.

    It’s a lot easier than pass protection and gives the signal-caller just enough time to gun it down field, if he doesn’t decide to hand-off. There will be a lot of variations with guards pulling, tackles pulling and extra protections from backs and TEs, to allow extended time when it’s needed or covering blitzes.

    This OL is going to be more active than it was with Mornhingweg, a coach is supposed to protect his unit at all cost. Doing mass pass protection, will weaken the physical/mental break-down and causes injuries down the stretch.

    Kelly does rotates his lines for different reasons. The rest of the personnel will know what he’s asking of them, when that happens. It’s the less-talk-more-recognition approach, Kelly believes each seconds count, just like constantly finger-snapping, go go go!

  • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

    The word to describer the offensive line is “Sad”. None of these guys, save a healthy Peters are capable of giving Kelly any of the precision and nastiness up front he got from his Oregon Linemen. If Peters doesn’t come back 100% he’s not going to be so effective limping onto the second level, and Kelce, if he can’t run a limping center pulling on a trap play just will not due. Dunlap and Herreman gives you nothing on the outside against seasoned rushers. Herreman has horrible feet, I’ve seen him pancaked several times.

    I don’t think the Eagles have a choice other than to take Joeckel and still try to pick up one of the free agents hitting the market. Depth is a critical need, but at this point there is absolutely nothing on the starting Offensive Line. If Herremans is pulling down $4 Mil, they should find a place where he can earn his fortune, tackle isn’t it.

    I thought the Eagles should have made a play for Jake Long last year when Miami didn’t extend his contract but they went for and signed Bell.

    • Johnathan Birks

      Bell was always a stopgap in the wake of Peters’ achilles injury. That he proved thoroughly unable to stop any gaps, as it were, doesn’t mean it was a bad move – Bell was almost universally regarded as the best LT on the market at the time. As for Long, he’s hardly the solution: an injury-prone player whose play has declined of late, but was demanding a monster contract (and still is), made no sense.

      • JofreyRice

        Do you wonder how all these missteps (Nnamdi, Bell, Watkins, Jarrett, Vick, DRC over Samuel, Washburn, Mudd, Castillo, maybe the Trent Cole extension) have any relation to the fact that the Eagles are now the worst team in the NFC East?

        To be fair, of course they’ve had some successes; Ryans was a great pickup in trade, Evan Mathis was a very good free agency signing, Bryce Brown looks like a talented back that just needs to clean up some issues; bouncing it outside too early, ball security among them. Fletcher Cox was a very good draft pick. Guys like Mychal Kendricks and Boykin clearly have NFL talent, and will hopefully take the next step.

        I’ll take the hater label if that’s the knee-jerk reaction. The point is, you can’t consistently miss more than you hit on players. You can’t have a roster full of bums and just say “Oh well, everyone thought they were good at the time”. An organization’s scouting department is supposed to be getting an accurate assessment of these guys, and projecting them to potential success within the team’s scheme, not taking a public opinion poll and then recommending whoever ranks #1. People use “hindsight” like a four letter word, but that’s what evaluating a GM is about. Looking back at the moves they made, and determining their wisdom, and effect on the team.

      • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

        The mere fact that Bell was replaced in the line up for King Dunlap says all there needs to be said about Bell. There’s no question in my mind Jake Long outplayed Dunlap and Bell last year for Miami, and if Peters returns, Long could have replaced Herreman’s with out any problem, Herremen’s was horrible last year, it’s just Dunlap and Bell were worse and Herreman’s snuck in under the radar.

        The point of the matter is that the Eagles have absolutely nothing up front and haven’t for 4 or 5 years. Some Philly fans were drooling for Jamal Jackson’s return and Jackson was the anchor of a line that gave up 48 sacks per season for his duration as center. 48 sacks per season is pathetic.