Sunday, December 28, 2014

State of the Eagles Roster: Offensive line

The Eagles gather for their first “organized team activity” – otherwise known as “practice” – on Monday. It will also be the first time Chip Kelly has the entire 90-man roster on the field together. He will spend the next four weeks evaluating his team and organizing his depth chart before a month-and-a-half break before training camp.

State of the Eagles Roster: Offensive line

Dallas Reynolds, center, prepares to hike the ball as the Eagles held<br />organized team activities at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia on<br />May 13, 2013. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Dallas Reynolds, center, prepares to hike the ball as the Eagles held organized team activities at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia on May 13, 2013. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

The Eagles gather for their first “organized team activity” – otherwise known as “practice” – on Monday. It will also be the first time Chip Kelly has the entire 90-man roster on the field together. He will spend the next four weeks evaluating his team and organizing his depth chart before a month-and-a-half break before training camp.

But Zach and I will get you up to date on the roster and spend the next two weeks assessing where the Eagles stand at each spot. We start with a closer look at the offensive line:

Projected current first team

Left tackle: Jason Peters (6-foot-4, 340 pounds), age 31, 10th season
Left guard: Evan Mathis (6-5, 302,), 31, 9th
Center: Jason Kelce (6-3, 295), 25, 3rd
Right guard: Todd Herremans (6-6, 321) 30, 9th
Right tackle: Lane Johnson (6-6, 303), 23, rookie

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First off, this isn’t a projection of how the starting lineup will look when the Eagles open the season in September. It is merely a prediction of how Kelly would line up his first team offensive line this spring if everyone was healthy. Mathis isn’t healthy. He recently underwent “minor” surgery on his ankle and will likely sit out the rest of the spring. Danny Watkins is expected to get some repetitions at left guard, as should Dennis Kelly. Kelce, who is returning from tearing the ACL and MCL in his knee, probably isn’t ready to take all the repetitions at center. Peters (ruptured Achilles tendon) and Herremans (broken cuboid bone) did everything they were asked, we were told, during minicamp last month.

Top draft pick Lane Johnson is likely to see some snaps with the starters at right tackle, but he will be eased into the rotation. He should project to start the season. Top five tackles generally aren’t given the luxury of sitting and watching during their first season. Johnson is raw, however. He’s only played on the offensive line for two seasons. He does have a slight advantage over others having played in an offense at Oklahoma that was every bit as up-tempo as Kelly’s at Oregon. And what he lacks in technique could be made up for by his athleticism. But there is obvious work to be done over the next several months, especially if Johnson is tasked with protecting Michael Vick’s blindside.

Herremans took all of his April minicamp repetitions at right tackle, according to Kelly. He hasn’t played guard since 2010, but the majority of his career was spent inside (71 starts at left guard; 23 at right tackle; six at left tackle). He has never played a game at right guard. He and Mathis could eventually switch spots. Herremans was shaky in his second season at right tackle. Some of the drop off could be attributed to the overall sad state of the line, but he seemed to lack the quickness to keep up with some of the top edge rushers in 2012.

Peters was one of the best left tackles in the game in 2011. From all accounts, his recovery has gone as planned. But it cannot be labeled a success until he actually faces some real competition and is asked to test the Achilles. If Peters can get back to 90-95 percent of what he was, he should be fine. He said last month that he planned on getting down to 325 pounds. That should help with keeping pace in Kelly’s offense, but more important, it should aid his general health.

Kelce could be 100 percent back by training camp. Much is expected of the third-year center, which may not be entirely fair. He had a promising rookie season and looked improved for the brief amount of time he played last season. But there’s still a bit of an unknown there. Mathis was the line’s most consistent performer in 2012. The surgery isn’t good news, but there’s no reason to panic just yet. If Watkins is still starting at left guard by mid-August, and Johnson’s learning curve is steeper than expected, then it may be time to sound the alarm.

That being said, I wouldn’t rule out the Eagles adding a veteran lineman sometime in the next few weeks. Free agent Eric Winston and several other veterans remain unsigned.

SECOND TEAM

Left tackle: Dennis Kelly (6-8, 321), 23, 2nd
Left guard: Danny Watkins (6-3, 310), 28, 3rd
Center: Dallas Reynolds (6-4, 320), 29, 2nd
Right guard: Julian Vandervelde (6-2, 300), 25, 3rd
Right tackle: Nate Menkin (6-5, 300), 24, 2nd

There’s a narrative building that Watkins’ growth was stunted by having to play for a cranky, old offensive line coach. Howard Mudd was frustrated by Watkins and often let him know it. He barked at the others, though, and the starters, at least, didn’t seem affected by it. Mudd had his faults. He didn’t spend enough time with the backups and when the injuries started piling up and the youngsters were asked to step up, it showed. But I can’t see how Watkins was his fault. Maybe the fireman thrives under new offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. Maybe he just needs to return to a more traditional blocking technique. But I’m sure Kelly’s opinion of Watkins’ future played some part in drafting Johnson.

Watkins does have an opportunity this spring to prove he has some value. If I were him, I’d learn how the snap the football. The Eagles need a backup center. They needed one last year and settled for Reynolds. It hurt them, although blaming Reynolds for last season’s woes would be like signaling the cameraman out after Howard the Duck flopped. Reynolds wasn’t a bad run blocker. I do recall him getting run over by a 230-pound Redskins linebacker in one game last season.

Kelly has some potential. He should benefit from some offseason conditioning and Kelly’s obsession with nutrition. I think he can be a capable backup tackle that can swing at both ends and maybe fill in at guard in a pinch.

Menkin is a mystery. The Eagles expended a roster spot on the project all of last season and yet he never suited up. I’m not sure that was an Andy Reid decision. I can’t see why he would be thinking about the future with his job on the line. More than likely, Howie Roseman saw something in Menkin and wanted to keep him around.

OTHERS

Allen Barbre (6-4, 305), tackle, 26, 6th; Matt Kopa, (6-6, 310), tackle, 26, 2nd; Kyle Quinn (6-3, 290), center, 23, rookie; Matt Reynolds (6-4, 310), tackle, 26, 1st; Matt Tennant (6-4, 300), center, 26, 4th; Matt Tobin (6-6, 303), guard, 22, rookie; Ed Wang (6-5, 315), tackle, 26, 3rd.

Quinn has an opportunity to win a roster spot coming in as an undrafted rookie. The Eagles have had a few of those at center over the years. Quinn was Nick Foles’ center at Arizona in 2011. Tennant couldn’t supplant Dallas Reynolds last season, which doesn’t bode well for his chances of making the squad this year. Matt Reynolds and his brother might have been the saddest Eagles to see Reid get fired. Wang played in six NFL games for the Bills as a rookie in 2010.

Jeff McLane Inquirer Staff Writer
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Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

Jeff McLane Inquirer Staff Writer
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