Eagles Practice Observations: Who’s Behind Kelce?

Philadelphia Eagles center Jason KelceAs Jason Kelce and Julian Vandervelde walked off the field, the Eagles’ starting center had some advice for the man who could potentially be his backup.

“He was sliding, using his hands, but not using his feet,” Kelce explained, adding that Vandervelde has all the physical tools to be a good center. “At center, you have to move your feet more, rather than really be that physical. …Just a couple times, he went up against our best defensive tackle, or hardest at least for me to block, Derek Landri, he got him a couple times.”

Pretty much every discussion about the 2012 Eagles involves a mention about Michael Vick’s ability to stay healthy and Mike Kafka’s ability to back him up. Some will also throw in LeSean McCoy’s heavy 2011 workload and the competition between Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk to back him up.

But what about the offensive line? We know Demetress Bell will fill in for Jason Peters. And if Bell is adequate, this unit has a chance to be really good. Depth, however, is a concern. It was on full display today as Evan Mathis missed practice due to illness and Todd Herremans was out with a shoulder injury.

That left rookie fifth-round pick Dennis Kelly protecting Vick’s blind side and practice squad regular Dallas Reynolds lining up at left guard for Mathis. Of course, this was just practice. In the real games, it’s expected that King Dunlap would be the first man up should Herremans or Bell go down. The interior, however, is a different story.

It might not sound like much of a concern, but it’s something that should at least be mentioned. Given Kelce’s added responsibilities this year at the line of scrimmage, the Eagles need someone who knows what he’s doing at the backup spot. The options right now are Vandervelde, Reynolds and veteran Steve Vallos.

Vandervelde, who said there is no official backup center listed right now, is perhaps the most interesting name, considering he was actually taken before Kelce in the fifth round of last year’s draft. But he’s never played center before this offseason. So how comfortable is with the preseason only a week away?

“Medium, on the terror scale, it’s like a yellow,” Vandervelde joked. “It’s a new thing for me. …It’s a lot more cerebral. You would think that the transition from guard to center wouldn’t be that hard, but it’s a whole new world for me. I’m having a lot of fun learning it. I’m having a little different focus everyday.”

Vandervelde believes every interior lineman who makes the 53-man roster will have to be comfortable at guard and center.

“Jason is absolutely integral to our offense right now,” he said. “All of us who are going to be in a position to back him up have got to be ready at a moment’s notice to go in there and take up that spot seamlessly.

“As long as I’m here, I’ve got to be able to play guard and center. It was enough to play guard last year. It’s not going to be enough anymore though.”

More practice observations:

* With the injuries on the defensive line, your first unit looked like this: Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri and Darryl Tapp. The second team was Phillip Hunt, Cedric Thornton, Antonio Dixon and Vinny Curry.

* DeSean Jackson dropped nine passes last year. Considering how deep his targets usually are, that’s way too high of a number. Each drop means a missed opportunity for a big play. Today, during one-on-one wide receiver/cornerback drills, he let a Nick Foles pass go right through his hands, and it was picked off by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

* The Eagles ran through one of my favorite drills today: running backs and tight ends charged with going one-on-one against blitzing linebackers. On one play, McCoy did a decent job on Brian Rolle, but it wasn’t good enough. The pair lined up again. This time, Rolle clubbed McCoy to the ground, before helping him up and apparently realizing the Eagles need that guy to go anywhere this season. Dion Lewis, meanwhile, had some trouble with Mychal Kendricks.

* During the red-zone portion of practice, Vick ran for a touchdown. In 2011, he ran for one red-zone score all year. In 2010, that number was nine.

* For a few plays, we had a flashback to last year with Casey Matthews in the middle. DeMeco Ryans went on and off the field, but would not say what was bothering him after practice, simply nothing that he was fine.

* With Jamar Chaney also leaving practice with a hamstring injury, there were a couple different nickel combinations: Matthews and Kendricks, along with Rolle and Keenan Clayton.

* Lewis continues to look quick and shifty as a receiver. Today, he made Curtis Marsh look silly on one play.

* Bryce Brown had a big run, scurrying away from Nate Allen in the open field. Running backs coach Ted Williams has talked about Brown’s second gear. That might have been as close to it as we’ve seen so far.

* There was one skirmish/fight. I don’t know who was involved on the defensive side, but Danny Watkins played a role on the offense. He seems to be in the middle of those quite a bit.

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

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