Changes up front for the Eagles

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Todd Herremans is the Eagles' new starting right tackle. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

He finally made the move.

After seeing Michael Vick battered again Thursday, Andy Reid pushed Todd Herremans, one of his most talented and consistent linemen, to the most critical position on the offensive line, right tackle.

Problem solved?

Not quite.

Poll

How confident are you in the Eagles' offensive line?

With rookie Danny Watkins struggling at right guard, rookie Jason Kelce apparently having the inside track to the center job despite evident growing pains, Herremans in a new position, and a new left guard, there are four offensive line slots with question marks hanging over them with two weeks to go until the season opener.

Until now, the Eagles knew they could count on Herremans and left tackle Jason Peters to provide solid protection on one side of Vick. But as Herremans moves to a position that is more important - but less familiar - even that certainty has been lost.

Moving Herremans might be better than the alternatives at right tackle, but it's not ideal.

Amid the turbulence, journeyman Evan Mathis has an opportunity and added responsibility.

Mathis will step in for Herremans at left guard, hoping to solidify the position so that the Eagles don't improve at one spot and slide at another.

Herremans played at a Pro Bowl level last year. Mathis is with his fourth team in seven NFL seasons after playing for Carolina, Miami, and Cincinnati.

"I wanted to make the most of this opportunity," Mathis said.

He's well aware of his career path. He has just 22 career starts - a number he knows off the top of his head - 15 of them in 2006, his only year as a full-time starter. He has appeared in one playoff game and now is part of a lineup with Super Bowl aspirations.

Reading his team bio, you can almost feel the Eagles staff struggling to find highlights.

"Saw significant action in five games at LG," reads one line from 2010, when Mathis was with the Bengals. "Played a key role on an offensive line that allowed no sacks over the final three games of the season."

But Mathis has looked like a good fit in Howard Mudd's offensive line scheme. Perhaps he has found a match of opportunity and style.

At 6-foot-5 and 302 pounds, Mathis is leaner than most guards - he's listed 19 pounds lighter than the 6-6 Herremans - but has quickness and can block in the open field. Just as Mudd likes it.

"I love Mudd's style, and any technique that he tells me to do on a given play, I'm out there trying it," Mathis said. "Nothing's really awkward. Some of the things I've even been trying for the first time, it feels good doing it. He does it because it works."

With shoulder-length hair and permanent stubble, he resembles a rocker, or, according to some Eagles staffers, professional wrestling's Undertaker.

He played well against Cleveland Thursday.

While the Eagles, by design, go light at some positions such as linebacker, Reid believes line play is fundamental to winning. But his group hasn't been right since Jamaal Jackson tore up his knee on Jan. 3, 2010.

With Vick's blind side at risk, and rookie Watkins struggling at right guard, Reid had to make a change at right tackle.

Herremans - athletic, smart, and hardworking - has been more reliable than Reid's other options there. The changes should boost the overall talent on the line, and it's easy to envision Herremans improving the tackle play, but by how much?

With only five career starts at tackle - four of them in 2005 - will the man who dubbed himself "the illest LG in the game" on Twitter be a Pro Bowl-level tackle? Above average? Adequate?

How long will it take him to get used to the new spot?

If Kelce opens the season at center, and it seems the Eagles want him to, fans will hope his growing pains don't hurt Vick, too.

Watkins has been anointed a starter since the Eagles drafted him, and he remains in place despite early woes. Maybe having the veteran Herremans alongside will help the first-round pick.

If Watkins isn't ready, though, the Eagles have one less fallback option now that Mathis has joined the starting lineup.

"You hear it so many times in football, that the offensive line needs time to jell, but I think all of us out there, we're all professionals, and you can do a lot of jelling in the meeting room, watching film, and going through the playbook together," Mathis said. "I think we're going to pick it up very fast."

At stake is Vick's health and any hope for a championship.

There are now four question marks on the line, up from three. And with just one preseason game left, the answers might not start coming until the games count.

Extra point. Right tackle Ryan Harris is scheduled to have back surgery Monday, not Sunday as the Eagles originally announced.

 


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, jtamari@phillynews.com, or @JonathanTamari on Twitter.