It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Eagles had an atrocious offensive line last year. Not that the rest of the team was any better, considering they went 4-12 and an absurd 1-11 in the final 12 games, but the line has (rightly or not) shouldered much of the blame for the offensive deficiencies of last year’s squad.
Granted, much of that can be attributed to injuries.
Perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters missed the entire year with a torn Achilles. Starting center Jason Kelce tore his MCL just three weeks into the season and sat out the rest of the year. Finally, just as the Birds were hitting their losing stride in week 9, versatile stalwart Todd Herremans was struck with a season ending foot injury (I can’t really claim to know another way of describing a dislocated cuboid bone).
But that was last year. Millions of miles away from the hearts and minds of Eagles fans these days.
So how is the line shaping up for year one of the Chip Kelly experiment?
Much, much better.
Back is Peters at left tackle. When healthy, which he apparently is, he’s amongst the top five or six tackles in the game. The 6-foot-4, 330-pounder from Arkansas should be an excellent fit in Kelly’s lightning-paced offense considering his extraordinary feet (remember, this guy was a 320-pound tight end in college, running a sub 5.0-40). Providing he can stay on the field this year, he should be looking at his sixth Pro Bowl. A spectacularly underwhelming Ed Wang is his backup.
At left guard returns Evan Mathis, easily the best (and most consistent) offensive lineman for the Birds last year. He was arguably the best guard in all of football last season yet was somehow snubbed for the Pro Bowl. The Alabama product should once again be counted on to be a force in the run game. Danny Watkins, the last great bust of the Andy Reid era, looks to back up Mathis.
Kelce is fully healed from his knee injury last year and is an absolute lock to win the starting center job over Dallas Reynolds. Kelce isn’t the biggest guy in the world (about 6-foot-3, 300-pounds), but he’s an incredibly smart and instinctive player. He does a fantastic job of reading a defensive front and making proper blocking adjustments for his fellow linemen.
Herremans is penciled in at right guard, the place he feels most comfortable, even though he can (and has) played everywhere along the line. He’s about as reliable as they come when he’s healthy, which he’s close to right now. Journeyman Julian Vandervelde looks to be his backup.
Finally, at right tackle, we can insert the fourth overall pick from the 2013 NFL Draft, Lane Johnson from Oklahoma. Johnson saw his stock skyrocket after he moved to tackle from tight end (and quarterback before that) and is a physical marvel at 6-foot-6, 300-pounds and running a 4.72 40-yard dash. For comparison’s sake on how fast that is for an offensive lineman, former All-Big East running back Ray Graham, at 199-pounds, ran a 4.80.
Johnson’s freakish athletic ability is an absolutely perfect fit in Kelly’s offense. He’ll see a lot of draws, delays, screens and traps on his side, and expect him to be a staple on the second level. Dennis Kelly is expected to back him up, after seeing extended time as a rookie last year during the plague of injuries.
The offense being installed is predicated on speed, agility and precise timing. Which for the offensive line means they’re gonna be all over the field. If they can stay healthy (a mighty big if), the starting line should be a very good fit for the new scheme. Depth is still a concern, but that’s a universal concern for every team in the league.
I expect to see a much more cohesive and dominant offensive line this fall in the City of Brotherly Love.