Eagles right guard Danny Watkins did not practice Friday and is listed as doubtful for Sunday's encounter with the Atlanta Falcons. Rookie Dennis Kelly is expected to make his first NFL start in Watkins' spot.
"It's exciting," Kelly said. "At the same time, you want Danny to be healthy and to be all right. To be given the opportunity, I'm excited for it and ready if I have to (play)."
Eagles coach Andy Reid said Watkins aggravated a chronic ankle problem in the Oct. 14 loss to the Lions, and though he practiced Monday and Wednesday, Reid said it was obvious Wednesday that Watkins was struggling. Reid said he didn't think the setback would be long-term.
Kelly was a fifth-round pick in April, from Purdue. He has been active for two games this season, playing on special teams.
"We have trust in him," Reid said of Kelly, who is listed at 6-8, 321. Reid said he decided not to shuffle players around to start a veteran instead of the rookie.
"Smart kid, tough kid," Reid said. Kelly was a tackle at Purdue but played a lot at guard in preseason and has worked out regularly there since training camp. "Great size and strength. Give him an opportunity."
Kelly said his sister Katie had planned to drive to this game from her home in Chicago anyway -- her first visit -- so this certainly would be a good week for him to start. His brother Tim is a grad assistant at Penn State but won't be able to get to the Linc Sunday, he said.
Kelly went pretty far down a draft that was considered poor for offensive linemen. He said the Purdue zone blocking system didn't really showcase the kind of one-on-one talents the NFL wants to see. He didn't get invited to the Scouting Combine, but worked out for several teams and gained 15 pounds after hearing teams say they thought he was too angular.
Really tall guards used to be rare in the NFL, not quite as much today. One of the trailblazers there was Todd Herremans, 6-6, 321, now the Eagles' right tackle, who played his first six seasons at guard. Left tackle King Dunlap, 6-9, 330, has filled in from time to time at guard, as well.
Herremans said he told Kelly to "use the strengths that he has inside, which right now would be his long arms and his aggression. Dennis is a smart football player, though. There's not too much I have to tell him. He's been doing a lot of work with Howard (Mudd, the offensive line coach) on inside stuff. I think he's ready to go."