Making sense of the Watkins/DeVan decision

Kyle DeVan will go from blocking for Peyton Manning to blocking for Michael Vick. (Michael Conroy/AP)

Back in February, the Eagles began to reveal plans for protecting their quarterback of the future, Michael Vick.

It started with a new coach, the legendary and briefly-retired Howard Mudd.

And extended to the draft, where they selected three offensive ilnemen - Danny Watkins in the first round, Julian Vandervelde in the fifth and Jason Kelce in the sixth.

The plan continued after the lockout ended and the team headed to Lehigh for training camp. Seemingly each morning, a new body appeared with the first team at right tackle. Austin Howard one day. King Dunlap the next. Fenuki Tupou? Sure, why not?

With Winston Justice sidelined, the team signed Ryan Harris to a one-year deal, but he lasted just one preseason game before requiring season-ending back surgery.

That's when the Eagles decided to move Todd Herremans to right tackle and Evan Mathis to left guard. Oh, and rookie Jason Kelce got the nod at center over veteran Jamaal Jackson.

The latest shakeup came Wednesday afternoon when word broke down at Novacare (see Eagletarian and Birds' Eye View for details) that newly-acquired Kyle DeVan has been getting reps at right guard with the first team and is likely to start Sunday in place of Danny Watkins.

Let's start with the rookie. After Watkins' performance in the third preseason game against the Browns, I'm guessing Andy Reid and company decided they were going to consider a backup plan in case Watkins wasn't ready for Week 1.

Watkins asked to get more reps and was the only first-team offensive lineman (at the time) to play in the fourth preseason game against the Jets. I paid close attention to his performance in that game and detailed his struggles in Man Up. That game likely convinced the coaching staff and Howie Roseman that replacing Watkins might make sense, at least in the beginning of the season.

In fairness to Watkins, he was given a short amount of time to get up to speed. Any labels that he's a bust would be completely premature. At the same time, he was given an opportunity to start from Day 1 and was unable to seize it. When the Eagles drafted him in the first round, part of the reasoning seemed to be that Watkins would be able to contribute right away. It looks like he'll be on the sidelines in Week 1, but Watkins should get another chance to compete for a starting job at some point this season.

Which brings us to DeVan, the third-year pro, who is actually three months younger than Watkins. DeVan played 13 games at left guard with the Colts last year. In 2009, he started nine games at right guard under Howard Mudd.

I took some time today and watched a couple of DeVan's games from the end of last year. The Colts' linemen are extremely difficult to assess because of how good Peyton Manning is. Manning dropped back to pass 1,156 times last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He was sacked 16 times and hit four times while throwing. That adds up to 20 hits, or one hit every 57.8 dropbacks.

Vick, meanwhile, dropped back 735 times. He was sacked 34 times and hit nine more times while throwing. That adds up to a total of 43 hits, or one every 17.1 dropbacks. And that's not even taking into account the hits on Vick when he took off and ran.

The point is DeVan looked fine in pass protection, but so much of the Colts' offense relies on Manning - his calls, his movement in the pocket, his ability to get rid of the ball quickly. Remember, the Colts were not a vertical offense in 2010. Manning averaged just 6.9 yards per attempt, tied for 18th in the league, and also his lowest average since his rookie season.

Vick, on the other hand, averaged 8.1 yards per attempt, which ranked fourth. The Eagles' offense centers around Vick getting the ball downfield to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. In other words, blocking for Manning and blocking for Vick will be completely different.

If you're wondering why the Colts parted ways with DeVan, so are some in Indy. Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star had this to say about guard Mike Pollak, whom the Colts kept over DeVan:

Pollak survives again despite underwhelming us. Maybe the Colts are keeping him around just long enough to move him to center when/if Jeff Saturday retires. But we know what we have with Pollak. He’ll do fine for a while, then inexplicably falter. Consistency has and continues to be his issue.

And so we move on to this weekend and the opener in St. Louis.

According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, the Rams sent six or more defenders at opposing quarterbacks over 17 percent of the time last season. That was the second-highest rate in the NFL. They zone blitzed 10.8 percent of the time, third-most.

In other words, St. Louis is well-equipped to confuse the Eagles. Vick and the offensive line, which has never played a single snap together, better be ready for a test right away.

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