SO, NOW where are we, with the Eagles' offensive line? Better, it would seem, but still a long way from copacetic.
The move of Todd Herremans to right tackle wasn't a shock; it was something Andy Reid had kept in his back pocket all along. Herremans is a solid, consistent guard who has filled in capably at left tackle in the past; there is no reason to think he won't be just fine at right tackle. In fact, you could debate whether Herremans might even be better than a healthy Winston Justice on Mike Vick's blindside.
(When will we see that healthy Justice, by the way? Apparently, not as soon as Reid's encouraging progress reports have made it seem, or the team would not have done this.)
When the Eagles moved Herremans, they broke up the strong left-side tandem of Herremans and tackle Jason Peters, which the Birds ran behind during the first half of last Thursday's preseason victory over the Browns - the game in which the rookie tandem of center Jason Kelce and right guard Danny Watkins got off to a horrible start, leading to Vick taking some punishing hits.
Kelce and Watkins are still right where they were, which might be a bigger surprise than the move of Herremans, especially since offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg last week touted a "competition" between Kelce and veteran starter Jamaal Jackson.
Jackson has been very reluctant to talk about this whole, unexpected drama, brought about by new offensive-line coach Howard Mudd wanting more athleticism in the middle, but his bitterness boiled over Saturday when he was asked about that "competition."
"You can call it a competition if you want. Competition? There is no competition. Whoever's in there, they're the starter, point blank. Whoever the coaches feel can get the job done, they'll put that person in there, and right now, that's not me," Jackson said. (There was no media access to yesterday's practice, in the wake of Hurricane Irene.)
Jackson, 31, the last Eagle from the Super Bowl XXXIX team (though he was on injured reserve that season) seemed to be saying you can't compete for a job that has been handed to someone else, regardless of how they struggle. He added that he is willing to help Kelce when asked.
In fact, that's just about exactly how Hank Fraley felt during the Eagles' 2006 training camp, when he and Jackson "competed" with the coaching staff clearly preferring Jackson's style.
Kelce said he was watching film of his mistakes Friday when Mudd called.
"He usually calls me the day after the games. He wants to know if I've watched the film, and then he wants to see if I see the same things that he's seeing," Kelce said. "He wants to make sure that I know when I make mistakes . . . He said, 'We're still gonna keep you in there with the ones. Just keep doing what you're doing, keep getting better, keep progressing.' "
Did Kelce think he deserved to remain the starter? It seems pretty clear the Eagles expect him to line up on the ball Sept. 11, when they open the season in St. Louis.
"I had some mistakes but I definitely had some good plays, too," Kelce said. "The coaches felt I deserved another shot, so I guess I'll leave it at that. "
Kelce confirmed that whatever Jackson's feelings, he has tried to help the rookie adjust.
"Jamaal and I have communicated throughout this whole process. He's about as professional as you can get in this league," Kelce said. "He obviously wants to be out there, but he's doing everything he can to help me."
Why is Mudd so invested in Kelce? The Eagles don't allow access to position coaches on a regular basis, but you could probably see what Mudd has in mind on that 13-yard Ronnie Brown touchdown run, in which Kelce was clearing the way.
"It was a good block . . . there was some other times when I didn't have a good block," Kelce said.
Watkins, meanwhile, might have had a tougher time than Kelce against the Browns, particularly against his former Baylor teammate, Cleveland first-round rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor. Watkins said he never lined up against Taylor in college, since Watkins was a left tackle there, but scouts felt Watkins did a good job when matched up against his pal during Senior Bowl practice.
"There were some areas I need to work on," Watkins said. "Some wrong [protection] calls were made. You learn from it and move on from there . . . [Taylor] blew past me on a few screens."
Herremans said Saturday he looks forward to being able to help Watkins. King Dunlap, who started at right tackle against the Browns, probably had a better evening than Kelce or Watkins, overall, but his inexperience was a poor complement to the two rookies.
The other moving part is journeyman Evan Mathis, now the starting left guard. Mathis, who turns 30 in November, is a former Panther, Dolphin and Bengal who hasn't started since he played for Cincinnati in 2009. Mathis feels this is the first time he has been in a system that emphasizes quickness and athleticism. He said Saturday he feels left guard is his best position.
Vick, by the way, is not showing any impatience. Quite the opposite - following Thursday's game he stuck up for Kelce, and Saturday, when asked about the o-line, the quarterback said: "It's not a mistake if you don't allow it to happen twice. We have guys that will learn from it, bounce back from it. We have confidence in them and we know the coaches do as well. We'll keep grinding and pushing."
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.
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