Eagles Practice Observations

No running diary from today’s session. With the rain falling, note-taking proved to be a bit of a challenge.

And the truth is, the setup was pretty much identical to the previous two practices that were open to the media. So if you’re looking for detailed accounts on how Chip Kelly is running these sessions, click here or here.

Below are some observations from today. We get another look Friday, and there are three open practices next week.

OFFENSE

* As we mentioned earlier, Jason Peters was missing from practice today. That left the Eagles with an offensive line of Lane Johnson (RT), Todd Herremans (RG), Dallas Reynolds (C), Allen Barbre (LG) and Dennis Kelly (LT). This was the first time we’ve seen Johnson running with the first team. Kelly had been getting the nod at right tackle, but he moved over to the left side.

* One name missing from that group is Danny Watkins. There was an opening for the third-year player, but it instead went to Barbre. A six-year veteran, Barbre has spent time with the Packers and Seahawks. Originally a fourth-round pick back in 2007, he was suspended for four games last season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The Seahawks ended up releasing him, and Barbre did not play in the league. Watkins, meanwhile, practiced at left guard with the second team.

* Completed passes were hard to come by in what was an overall sloppy day for the offense. On one play, wide receiver Nick Miller was downfield blocking a defensive back, but apparently, he was supposed to be in a route because Nick Foles threw the ball at his back. Riley Cooper, meanwhile, dropped a beautiful 40-yard pass from Michael Vick.

* By my count, Vick spent three team periods (meaning the offense goes against the defense) as the starter, while Foles got the nod for two. On the last team period of the day, Vick and LeSean McCoy fumbled a handoff on the first rep. Kelly blew the whistle and called for the second team.

* Today was a big insertion day, Kelly said, meaning a bunch of new plays were installed. That could be part of the reason for the sloppiness. On one play, Chris Polk lined up to Matt Barkley’s left and McCoy was to his right. Barkley took the shotgun snap, faked the handoff to Polk, and McCoy circled behind him, running a wheel route down the left sideline.

* During 7-on-7 drills, there are no offensive or defensive linemen. But Kelly didn’t want to make things easy at the line of scrimmage for his quarterbacks. So he had three assistants wear special contraptions to simulate 6-4 defensive linemen. They were basically shoulder pads with black boards attached to the back that extended up about 3 feet past each guy’s head. No word on if Kelly plans to take the idea to Shark Tank this offseason. I’m sure Mark Cuban would be interested for the right offer.

* Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Vick fired one pass directly into the board for an incompletion. Like I said, rough day for the offense.

* One bright spot though that will make this crowd happy: Vick hit 6-7 WR Ifeanyi Momah for a touchdown during the red-zone period.

* Interesting unbalanced line look on one play. Dennis Kelly moved to the right of Johnson, essentially giving the Eagles two right tackles. To the right of the center were three offensive linemen. And to the left was a guard and the tight end.

DEFENSE

* Defensive coordinator Billy Davis tried to explain last week that the coaching staff is still feeling out roles for many of the players. I’m convinced Trent Cole is one of the guys he’s talking about. Today, Cole lined up as one of three down linemen (Clifton Geathers and Fletcher Cox were the others) during one part of practice. Cole has also seen plenty of reps at right outside linebacker. I’m not sure exactly where the veteran is going to fit in. And I’m not sure Davis does either.

* Disguise is going to be a big part of Davis’ scheme. On one play, Cox, Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks were all lined up on the left side, standing up near the line of scrimmage. The Eagles only had two down linemen on the play. Remember, Davis comes from the Dick LeBeau/Dom Capers school of zone blitzing. Part of that is simply trying to disguise who’s rushing and who’s dropping back on any given play.

* Curtis Marsh and Bradley Fletcher were the first-team cornerbacks, as has been the case during all three practices open to the media. This is the first time Cary Williams has been present. He lined up with the second team. At safety, Nate Allen and Patrick Chung lined up with the first team. More here on the cornerbacks from T-Mac.

* On one play, Foles rolled to his right, and Brandon Graham gave chase from the left outside linebacker spot. Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro ran after him yelling. Sometimes, from afar, it’s tough to know whether coaches are ripping a player or praising a player. But in this case, Bo Wulf of PhiladelphiaEagles.com convinced me that Azzinaro was actually praising Graham for his effort.

* Some 4-2-5 nickel looks with four down linemen today. One of them was a bit of a flashback to last year. Graham and Cole were the defensive ends, and Cox/Cedric Thornton the defensive tackles.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

Coaching Change Has Danny Watkins Energized

Danny Watkins turned himself  into a bit of a ghost last season.

He rarely appeared in the locker room when the media was in there. If he did, he walked briskly to his stall — phone fixed to his ear — got what he needed, and then disappeared out of sight. The brief glimpses were of a man who didn’t seem to be enjoying himself whatsoever.

He vanished from the field of play as well. The former first-round pick yielded six QB hits and nine quarterback hurries in the first six games, per Pro Football Focus. Before the seventh game, Andy Reid had introduced us to the term “chronic ankle” and Watkins settled into a reserve role.

“It started off slow and then, I think it was Week 6, my ankle falls apart and I felt it was just one thing after another,” said Watkins. “The team’s doing poorly and I want to support the team the best I can. It was just a real sense of helplessness I guess you could say.”

He wore a different look when he stopped to talk with reporters last week. Less strained, a bit more energized. With Evan Mathis sidelined following ankle surgery, Watkins is running with the first team during these OTAs. He’s back on the left side of the line (he played left tackle at Baylor) and finds it a more natural fit. He has been told by Chip Kelly that there is no depth chart to start, which seems to have Watkins genuinely excited.

And, if he’s honest, he is relieved to be working with Jeff Stoutland instead of Howard Mudd.

“I struggled with Howard, and his coaching and some of his concepts,” Watkins admitted. “But that’s not his fault, that’s on me — that’s my responsibility to get better and do what I need to do. But this is more of a conventional type of offense in the pass protection and run progressions so it feels a lot better.”

Watkins said that he “absolutely” worked out extra hard this offseason and focused on his conditioning in anticipation of Kelly’s up-tempo stylings. He stuck around Philadelphia so he could meet the new coaches and get an understanding of what they were looking for; convinced his new bride to put off the honeymoon so he didn’t have to miss Kelly’s first minicamp.

“He’ s coming along pretty well,” said Jason Kelce. “You can see the knowledge is picking up in there. He’s finally understanding [how] defenses work and everything like that. He’s getting there.”

“Just a learning curve right now because they’re moving him around but he’s getting it,” added Jason Peters.

When he was selected by the Eagles with the 23rd overall pick back in 2011, Watkins was sold as a polished lineman who could jump into the fire right away and perform. It was the rationale that allowed them to draft a 26-year-old guard in the first round. Watkins is now 28 and entering his third pro season, and as his teammates’ comments suggest, the learning process is still very much ongoing.

The hope is that it is now starting to click in place for Watkins; that this change of environment will pull him up to the surface.

“I feel more comfortable,” said Watkins. “I want to start and I want to play. I’m going to go wherever they tell me to go, and do whatever I need to do. I’m having a good time out here and enjoying it. Last year was a bit of a drag but it’s water under the bridge and I don’t have a rearview mirror.

“You don’t want to dwell too much on the past, but you’ve got to learn from it.”

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On the Lane Johnson/Danny Watkins Comparison

Eagles fans never forget.

Just last week, during ESPN’s 30 for 30, Elway To Marino, a reader Tweeted me, saying he threw his remote across the room when footage was shown of the Eagles selecting running back Michael Haddix with the No. 8 pick in 1983. A graphic scrolled across the screen during the film, explaining that Haddix had the lowest yards-per-carry average (3.0) in the history of the NFL.

To make matters worse, of the 20 players selected after Haddix in the first round that year, four went on to have Hall of Fame careers: Bruce Matthews, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Darrell Green.

So when the Eagles used the No. 4 pick last week on Lane Johnson, some fans couldn’t help but take a stroll down memory lane and ask: Did the Birds just take another Danny Watkins?

There is one primary reason to compare the two: experience.

If we look just at offensive line experience, Watkins actually had more than Johnson entering the league. He played two years at Butte (Junior) College and then two more at Baylor. Johnson, on the other hand, has a total of two years – both at Oklahoma. He had never played offensive tackle before in his life.

But there’s a little more to it than that. Watkins had never played football until 2007 when he was 23-years-old. He was 26 when he was drafted and asked to move from tackle to guard. He turns 29 in November and faces an uncertain future with the team that took him 23rd overall.

I went back and looked at some of the things written about Watkins when the Eagles drafted him. While most believed he was a really good prospect, this line from NFL.com’s scouting report stood out:

Raw football player that does not always recognize stunts and blitzes and can get caught out of position.

That’s a pretty good summation of his issues through two years in the NFL.

Johnson, meanwhile, turns 23 this month. He comes from a football town in East Texas. His stepdad coached at the high school level, and he’s been playing the game since he was a kid – just not always as an offensive lineman.

Johnson most notably played quarterback in high school and in junior college.

“When you’re a quarterback, you know where people are on the field,” Johnson said. “You know your protections and you know the defensive alignments. Now, playing tackle, it’s easier to see things and you have a greater appreciation for protecting the quarterback because I know how it feels to get sacked on your blind side when you obviously can’t see it.”

There’s also the issue of athleticism. Watkins was considered a good athlete, but Johnson is off the charts.

The site Mockdraftable.com has a terrific graphic showing Johnson’s measurables compared to other offensive tackles. He’s in the 96th percentile or higher in the 40-yard dash, the 10-yard dash, the 3-cone drill, the vertical jump and the broad jump. Those things don’t always translate to the field, but clearly, there are tools to work with.

The Eagles were able to watch tape on Johnson at both right tackle (junior year) and left tackle (senior year). Chip Kelly is friendly with Bob Stoops and was able to speak to him “extensively” about Johnson’s makeup and work habits.

All of this is to say there are differences between Johnson and Watkins as prospects. But it’s fair to acknowledge that Johnson is no slam dunk. Kelly admitted as much when he called Johnson “raw” last week and talked about his upside. His stock rose significantly after the season (Senior Bowl, Combine, etc.).

Part of the selection had to do with who else was available. Guys like Ziggy Ansah, Barkevious Mingo and Tavon Austin have their own question marks.

The Eagles evaluated the talent available and went with the guy they graded the highest. Now it’s up to the coaching staff to draw the most out of him. There’s always the chance that Johnson fails to meet expectations, but from this perspective, the thought process seems sound.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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The State Of the Eagles’ Offensive Line

Todd Herremans says he has not watched the draft since 2005. That was the year the Eagles selected him in the fourth round out of Saginaw Valley State.

But next Thursday could affect the ninth-year pro. After moving to right tackle before the 2011 season, Herremans could be asked to slide back inside to guard, particularly if the Eagles use a first-round pick on someone like Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher or Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson.

So surely Herremans will be tuning in this year, right?

“I’m sure I’ll see it on Twitter,” he said.

“It’s always been a possibility ever since I’ve been here, pretty much, so I just go about my day-to-day business.”

Herremans has maintained all offseason that he would have no problem making the position switch and just wants to get the team’s five best options on the field.

The offensive line is now under the direction of Jeff Stoutland. For players like Herremans and Jason Peters, it’s their third position coach in four seasons.

Asked to compare Stoutland’s teaching style to Howard Mudd’s, Herremans said, “He works [us] a little harder. He’s a little louder. He’s intense. You can tell that he’s a college coach, kind of in your face. He’s kind of got one tone, and that’s loud. But it’s positive. He’s not dog-cussing any of us or anything like that.”

“Stoutland, he’s got an answer for everything,” added Evan Mathis. “He has many tools. It’s not one way to do things on most plays. You have options. And usually those options rely on you game-planning who you’re playing, the techniques that they’re going to be using, so you can use your different tools in those scenarios.

“But as far as coaching style, he’s verbal, he’s outspoken. I think he’s a good communicator. He’s loud, he’s not out there bashing anybody. He’s not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings. He’s a great coach.”

Like the rest of the team, the offensive line is looking to maximize reps during every practice, a stark change from the past.

“When we were in individual [portion of practice] with Howard, Howard was in the school of thought of where if you did a rep and you did it right, lock that in and don’t do another one,” Herremans said. “Stoutland’s like what Juan was. He’s going to have you rep’d out so that it becomes like you don’t even have to think about it.”

Expectations are high for the offensive line. The unit was a strength in 2011, but suffered devastating injuries, which highlighted a lack of depth last year. Even though Jason Kelce was not a full practice participant this week, four of the five spotsare currently claimed.

Right guard, however, is up in the air. Danny Watkins is penciled in there for now, but he’s a giant question mark, and the draft is likely to shape the team’s plans.

“I expected big things from us last year, and it was just terrible to see everybody go down one-by-one,” Mathis said. “Going into this season right now, it’s looking like we’re all going to be healthy, and I expect a lot of us. I expect the offensive line to be able to carry the team on their back. Jason Peters, I think he could have come back late last season if we needed him to, which put him well ahead of schedule for this mini-camp, and he’s out there just in his pure form, looking really good. It’s good to have him back out there. It’s good to have all the guys back, it really is.”

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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For Eagles, Roseman, Tackle Likely Safest Bet

They don’t always hit, but they hit pretty often. And when they do, they hit big.

There have been 10 offensive tackles selected with a top-five pick since 2001. Six turned into Pro Bowlers. And combined, those six have been named to the Pro Bowl a total of 18 times.

This is how it breaks down:

Year
Name
Overall Pick
Number of Pro Bowls
2001Leonard Davis2nd3
2002Mike Williams 4th0
2003None----
2004Robert Gallery2nd0
2005None----
2006D'Brickashaw Ferguson4th3
2007 Joe Thomas 3rd6
2007Levi Brown5th0
2008Jake Long1st4
2009Jason Smith2nd0
2010Trent Williams4th1
2011None----
2012Matt Kalil 4th1

Howie Roseman says there is a reason why the return rate is so high.

“I think it’s hard to find really big men who can move, so when you get those guys, they’re very clear,” the Eagles general manager said on Monday. “It’s not like you’re projecting as much. When you talk about different positions, there’s a projection in the NFL because they’re not doing the same things as they’re doing in college. When you’re in the college game, and you’re an offensive lineman, you’re doing all the same things you’re going to have to do in the NFL game, so maybe the projection’s a little easier.”

Indeed, the 2012 Pro Bowl roster supports the notion that much of the standout talent is found early. Of the nine tackles on the respective teams, five were top-12 picks and seven were first-rounders.

This is considered a particularly strong tackle class, especially early in the draft. Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher could both be taken in the top 5, and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson may very well be plucked just a short time later. The Eagles, holding the No. 4 pick, sit right in the middle of it all.

“The common denominator is length, athleticism, toughness and intelligence,” said Roseman of the top three tackles. “When you’re evaluating offensive linemen, all those things are apparent in those offensive linemen, as well as other offensive linemen in this draft.”

Taking an offensive lineman in the first round is not always the right move, of course. It was just two years ago that the Eagles used the 23rd pick on guard Danny Watkins, who lost his job last year and is dangerously close to being deemed a bust. Roseman was asked about the Baylor product Monday.

“We’re really encouraged by Danny. He’s got a chip on his shoulder. He’s really energized, literally, to come in and get somewhat of a fresh start. That’s how he looks at it. He’s been here in the offseason program. In fact, he got married on a Saturday because when you have a veteran coach you don’t start your offseason program till today. So he had set his wedding date. He drove in from Texas. He drove by himself. Didn’t take the honeymoon. Came to be here on time for the first day of the offseason programs. He’s got a great opportunity here to get a fresh start and we told him, just go out and focus on your job. Don’t worry about anything that happened in the past.”

Watkins will be up against it, though, particularly if the Eagles take a tackle at No.4 and kick Todd Herremans inside.

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Revisiting the 2011 Draft

Most analysts agree that it takes three years to properly judge a draft class.

But in the case of the Eagles’ 2011 picks, we might only need two.

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com recently re-picked the first round, knowing what we know now. Instead of Danny Watkins at No. 23, he has the Eagles taking cornerback Jimmy Smith:

The Eagles could avoid the failed “Dream Team” experiment by a selecting a Nnamdi Asomugha-like corner in this do-over. Smith is the long, rangy press corner needed to take on the likes of Dez Bryant, Pierre Garcon and Victor Cruz in the NFC East.

Smith was originally taken four spots after Watkins. He has only five starts in two seasons, but played a significant amount of snaps for the Ravens’ Super Bowl squad last year,

Watkins, meanwhile, enters his third NFL season not knowing if he has a future with the team that drafted him.

He was inconsistent in 12 games as a rookie before being sidelined with what Andy Reid deemed a “chronic” ankle injury after six starts in 2012. When Watkins got healthy again, his spot had been taken by 31-year-old Jake Scott. Now he’ll try to get a fresh start with Chip Kelly and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, but nothing is guaranteed.

The miscues from the 2011 draft extend well beyond the 28-year-old guard. The Eagles continue to look for safety help after missing badly on Jaiquawn Jarrett in the second round. And they added a pair of corners in free agency, partly because Curtis Marsh, a third-round pick, has yet to show he’s worthy of getting a shot to start.

The players remaining from that class are Watkins, Marsh, Alex Henery, Dion Lewis, Casey Matthews, Julian Vandervelde and Jason Kelce.

Henery will continue to be the team’s kicker, and Kelce figures to have a bright future if he can recover from last year’s knee injury. But everyone else in the group will be fighting for a roster spot.

Earlier this offseason, Jeffrey Lurie took Howie Roseman off the hook for that draft, indirectly pointing the blame at Joe Banner and Andy Reid. But it’s evident that many of the holes the team went into the offseason with (right guard, safety, cornerback) can be traced in part back to misses during the 2011 draft.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Here are three leftovers: DeSean Jackson on tempo, Brandon Graham on sports science and Jason Peters on getting a playoff win.

T-Mac rounds up the latest draft buzz.

The Eagles have hosted Darius Slay, the fastest cornerback in the draft, for an official visit.

They have also worked out Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson.

EJ Manuel delivers his latest draft diary.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Mike Mayock tells Paul Domowitch of the Daily News that Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce is a second-round pick:

“He’s going to end up going in the second round. There were some questions about him off the field and some durability issues. But I think he’s addressed a lot of that. Most people have bought into him. The tape is pretty darn good. This kid can go deep. He catches the football. He’s really athletic. And he’ll also compete in the blocking.”

In an Allentown Morning Call piece, Jimmy Kempski takes a look at Lane Johnson as an option for the Eagles:

Johnson played RT at Oklahoma in 2011, then moved to LT in 2012. If the Eagles were to draft him, Johnson would fit in well with how the Eagles might use him. The idea would be for Johnson to slide right in at RT from Day 1, while Todd Herremans would move to RG.

COMING UP

We’re 17 days away from the draft. Plenty to get to today and this week.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Wake-Up Call: The State Of the Offensive Line

One of the more intriguing aspects of free agency for the Eagles might have been a move they didn’t make.

On the first day of the new league year, the Birds were linked to right tackle Jake Long. Eventually, Long ended up signing a four-year, $34 million deal with the Rams that includes up to $20 million in guaranteed money if he stays healthy.

The Eagles also expressed interested in right tackle Eric Winston once he was cut by the Chiefs. Les Bowen of the Daily News reports that the team has a number it’s willing to sign Winston at, and a deal is still possible, depending on what he gets offered elsewhere.

So what does all this mean for the current players on the roster?

Football Outsiders tracks a stat called Adjusted Games Lost (AGL) Here’s their definition:

Measurement of the cost of injuries, both in terms of missed games and games where players were not able to play to their full potential. Estimates a number of games based on whether players are listed as Probable, Questionable, Doubtful, or Out.

In other words, it measures how badly teams were hurt by injuries compared to others around the league. We know Jason Peters missed the entire season, Todd Herremans missed eight games and Jason Kelce missed 14. But the metric shows just how devastating those injuries were.

The Eagles’ offensive line AGL was 42.6; that’s the highest number for a team since the site started tracking the stat 11 years ago.

The bad news is those injuries helped pave the way for a 4-12 season. The good news is it’s reasonable to expect improved health in 2013. Herremans told the Wilmington News-Journal recently that he doesn’t anticipate missing any offseason activities as he recovers from an ankle/foot injury. He had missed just five games the previous six seasons.

Jason Kelce has been rehabbing a torn ACL all offseason. He suffered his injury in the second game of the season and had surgery in October. And by all accounts, Jason Peters is doing well after injuring (and then re-injuring) his Achilles’.

Going forward, the two areas in need of an upgrade are right guard and depth. The Eagles are unlikely to go into the spring projecting Danny Watkins as a starter. If the former first-round pick surprises, great. But the team can’t be counting on that at this point.

The idea of moving Herremans back inside seems to definitely be in play, given the team’s interest in Long. Perhaps they’ll still sign a right tackle, or more likely, they could take one with the No. 4 pick (Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher).

The other option would be to sign or draft a starting-caliber right guard and keep Herremans at tackle.

And finally, the team needs to address depth. The Eagle have bodies: Dennis Kelly, Matt Kopa, Nate Menkin, Matt Tennant, Dallas Reynolds – but they’ll all be expected to compete for roster spots in 2013.

WHAT YOU MISSED

The Eagles were awarded a seventh-round compensatory pick. T-Mac has the breakdown of all their selections.

Owner Jeffrey Lurie told McManus that Nick Foles is going to have a great opportunity to compete.

Prior to going to West Virginia to see Geno Smith, Lurie had not attended a private workout since 1999 when he watched Donovan McNabb.

Chip Kelly’s history of using a rotation on defense helps explain the Connor Barwin signing.

Who will the Eagles take with the No. 4 pick? Here’s your mock draft roundup.

And finally, an All-22 breakdown of new wide receiver Arrelious Benn.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

SI.com’s Peter King called the James Casey signing the second-best deal of free agency:

“With coach [Chip] Kelly coming in here, I thought it was a great fit for me,” Casey said upon signing. Truest words of the week. Recruited to Rice as a quarterback, Casey became an all-purpose back and tight end, and played numerous special teams for Houston. The way Kelly will use Casey (52 catches, 11.3 yards per catch in 969 snaps in Houston over the past two years) is the way the Patriots use their tight ends, and the way San Francisco used Delanie Walker last year: everywhere.

Dan Graziano of ESPN.com looks at the Eagles’ QB situation:

But having seen the inconsistent turnover-prone, injury-prone Vick too much over the past two years, we have no choice but to cast him into the “question mark” category. Kelly can dream and scheme and imagine all that Vick can do with the help of his fresh offensive concepts, but he can’t be sure Vick will be able to run the offense responsibly, make the right decisions under fire, protect the ball or keep himself from getting hurt. No one can. That’s who Vick is, and that’s what you accept when you take on Vick as your starting quarterback.

This isn’t news to Kelly, and that’s why you’re starting to hear rumblings about the Eagles poking around West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who could be theirs for the taking with the No. 4 pick in the draft.

COMING UP

T-Mac will have all aspects of the owners’ meetings in Phoenix covered, plus some free agency and draft nuggets.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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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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Making Sense Of the Eagles’ Inactives

The following Eagles are inactive for today’s game against the Giants: Greg Salas, Chris Polk, Danny Watkins, Matt Kopa, Evan Moore, Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks.

Cox and Kendricks both suffered concussions last week against the Redskins. Derek Landri will start in Cox’s place. The Eagles will continue to go to a rotation that includes Cullen Jenkins, Landri, Cedric Thornton and Antonio Dixon, who just re-signed with the team last week.

Akeem Jordan gets the start at WILL in Kendricks’ place.

With Nick Foles out, Michael Vick will get his first start since suffering a concussion against the Cowboys on Nov. 11. Trent Edwards will back him up. If Vick suffers a serious injury, the Eagles could be on the hook for a $3 million guarantee (details here).

Watkins is a healthy scratch for the second straight week. The backup offensive linemen will be Demetress Bell and Matt Tennant.

Fullback Stanley Havili returns to the lineup after missing last week’s game.

Darryl Tapp was a healthy scratch last week, but is back in the lineup.

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Making Sense Of the Eagles’ Inactives

The following Eagles are inactive for today’s 1 p.m. matchup against the Redskins: Michael Vick, Greg Salas, Chris Polk, Stanley Havili, Darryl Tapp, Danny Watkins and Matt Kopa.

The surprises on the list are Watkins and Tapp. Watkins did not appear on the injury report all week and looks to be a healthy scratch. The Eagles have two backup offensive linemen: Matt Tennant and Demetress Bell. Tennant would presumably enter the game in the event that Evan Mathis, Dallas Reynolds or Jake Scott were to suffer an injury. Bell is the swing tackle.

As for Tapp, the Eagles have tightened their defensive line rotation in recent weeks, allowing starting defensive ends Trent Cole and Brandon Graham to play more snaps. This gives younger players Vinny Curry and Phillip Hunt a chance to play more.

Despite being healthy, Vick is inactive. He has not dressed since suffering a concussion against the Cowboys on Nov. 11. Trent Edwards will serve as Nick Foles’ backup.

LeSean McCoy returns to the lineup for the first time since Nov. 18 when he sustained a concussion in the final two minutes of the first meeting with the Redskins. He’ll start but will likely be eased back in, Andy Reid said during the week. Bryce Brown figures to see a fair share of playing time.

Brent Celek missed last week’s game because of a concussion. He’s back in the lineup today. Tight end Evan Moore, who was signed during the week, is active. Emil Igwenagu replaces Havili at fullback. He could see some snaps at tight end too.

Don’t forget to join us for a live chat during today’s game. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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