Eagles Depth Chart Outlook: Offensive Line
This is the eighth in a series. Click here for the earlier depth chart posts.
Football Outsiders uses a metric call Adjusted Games Lost to measure injuries.
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.
They break it down by position and recently found that no offensive line in the last 11 years (that’s as long as they’ve tracked the metric) suffered more devastating injuries than the Eagles last season.
The unit that was a strength in 2011 turned out to be a disaster in 2012, after injuries to Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans, along with a lack of depth.
Peters has looked good during spring practices, and Herremans has been a full participant. Kelce has been a partial participant, but is expected to be full-go for training camp. And Evan Mathis suffered an ankle injury, but should also be fine for training camp.
The Eagles didn’t make any major free agent moves with this group, but they used the No. 4 overall pick on Lane Johnson.
If everyone is healthy, the starting lineup will likely look like this: Johnson (RT), Herremans (RG), Kelce (C), Mathis (LG) and Peters (LT). But there are depth spots up for grabs.
Here’s a look at all of the offensive linemen:
Pencil ’em in: Peters, Mathis, Kelce, Herremans, Johnson.
The question for Peters is the Achilles’, which he injured and then re-injured last offseason. But the five-time Pro Bowler indicated that he could have played at the end of the 2012 season if the Eagles were in the hunt for a playoff berth. Instead, he’s had extra time for rest and rehab. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said recently that you’d never know Peters had an injury with the way he’s practiced.
Peters missed the most recent OTAs because of a personal matter, but is expected to be in attendance at this week’s mini-camp.
Mathis was the last man standing on last year’s offensive line. Some thought he might get exposed without Peters by his side, but that wasn’t the case at all. Mathis’ 2012 campaign was probably better than his 2011 run. Assuming his ankle is healthy, Mathis should be a consistent performer at left guard.
Chip Kelly has spoken glowingly about the work Kelce has put in this offseason to get back from an ACL injury. The third-year center has the athleticism to thrive in Kelly’s system.
After two years at right tackle, Herremans moves back inside to guard, where he played from 2006 to 2010. Herremans played well at tackle in 2011, but he’s admitted that last year was a different story. The veteran struggled through the first eight games before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Herremans is 30 and will once again be asked to make a position switch, but he’s shown his versatility in the past and should be fine.
It’ll be interesting to see this week whether Johnson is running with the first team at right tackle. He got the nod there last week, but that was in part because Peters was missing. Kelly described the Eagles’ first-round pick as “raw” but in all likelihood, he’ll be a starter when the season begins against the Redskins.
Fighting for a spot: Kelly, Watkins, Reynolds, Barbre, Kopa, Menkin, Purcell, Quinn, Tennant, Tobin, Vandervelde and Wang.
If the Eagles keep eight or nine linemen on the 53-man roster, that means three or four players from this group will make the team.
Two of the favorites are Kelly and Watkins. Kelly gained some valuable experience last year, starting three games at guard and seven at tackle. He had some moments early on where he impressed, but towards the end of the season, he turned in some completely disastrous performances.
Having said that, the new coaching staff has given him plenty of reps at right tackle with the first team in place of Johnson and at left tackle with Peters out. The swing tackle position is an important one, and Kelly doesn’t seem to have much competition right now. It seems reasonable to expect him to improve in his second season and earn a roster spot.
We’ve written plenty about Watkins in this space. He’s shown very little in his first two seasons, but believes the coaching change could help him reach his potential. The truth is, barring injury, there’s not a starting spot open for him. Watkins’ job this offseason will be to prove to Kelly and Stoutland that he’s the best backup option at guard.
There are a lot of unknowns with the rest of the group. Barbre was a fourth-round pick by the Steelers in 2007, but he was suspended last offseason for the use of performance-enhancing substances, and the Seahawks ended up releasing him. Barbre has been getting some first-team looks though and could compete for a backup job.
The Eagles will also have to come up with a plan for a backup center. Reynolds was the man last year and has a chance to win the job again. Quinn and Tennant are the other centers on the roster. Vandervelde has been getting some looks there. And don’t forget that Mathis had to learn the job last year.
Kopa, Tennant, Tobin and Wang have all seen time with the second team.
As I mentioned, plenty of spots up for grabs. And if the Eagles decide they don’t like the talent on the roster, they could always look to make additions to address depth in the coming months.