The Eagles gathered for their first “organized team activity” on Tuesday and will meet for a total of ten practices over the next three weeks before a three-day minicamp in mid-June concludes the spring portion of workouts. Thursday’s session will be open to the media and The Inquirer will have full coverage.
Over the next two weeks, though, we’ll reset the 90-man roster, looking at each position and where the depth chart stands heading into July’s training camp. We start with the Eagles’ offensive line:
Projected current first team
Left tackle: Jason Peters (6-foot-4, 328 pounds), age 32, 11th season
Left guard: Evan Mathis (6-5, 298), 32, 10th
Center: Jason Kelce (6-3, 295), 26, 4th
Right guard: Todd Herremans (6-6, 321) 31, 10th
Right tackle: Lane Johnson (6-6, 317), 24, 2d
If there’s a concern about this unit it is the advancing age of several members. Still, it is difficult to imagine any of them losing their starting spots before the season opener in September. Todd Herremans is the most susceptible. He had his struggles early last season, particularly in pass protection, but once he adjusted to right guard, there was improvement. He remained an above average run blocker. But Herremans is a year older and even he would admit a half-step slower. Allen Barbre would be his chief competitor unless one of the veterans or undrafted rookies the Eagles added this offseason surprises. It seems unlikely that any of the youngsters could supplant a veteran, but Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman will look to develop some interior talent perhaps to replace Herremans next season when his contract could make him expendable.
Evan Mathis turns 33 in November, but he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. He made news this offseason when it was reported that the Eagles had placed him on the market. What really happened was this: Mathis wanted a new contract. The Eagles weren’t willing to re-work his deal, so they told his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, that he could shop the all pro guard and see if teams would be willing to part with a third-round draft pick for him. There were interested teams, but not at that price. The Eagles value Mathis, but weren’t willing to tear up a five-year, $25 million contract two years in, especially for one of the oldest starting guards in the NFL. Mathis has publicly done nothing to suggest he is unhappy. He showed up for the start of workouts in April and isn’t expected to hold out from June’s mandatory minicamp. He’s a key cog on the line, and one of the best run blockers in the league, but he doesn’t play a premium position like Jason Peters.
The Eagles extended Peters’ contract four more years in February, but what they essentially did was guarantee him two more years in Philly. He’ll be 34 when the Eagles have to decide whether to bring him back for his 13th NFL season. Peters needed a few weeks last season to get under his legs after missing 2012 with a ruptured Achilles tendon. He dominated against pass rushers in the second half of last season. He is arguably the most important non-quarterback on the roster.
Jason Kelce’s growing importance to the offense cannot be understated, and the Eagles acknowledged as much by locking the center down with a six-year contract extension that could keep him here until 2020. As NFL defenses and their blitz packages become more advanced, the center’s role in calling out blocking responsibilities has increased his value on the line. Kelce’s athleticism makes him one of the league’s best run and screen blockers, but he still has room to improve as a pass protector.
Lane Johnson was the obvious wild card heading into last season. Despite playing only two years at tackle in college, the Eagles thrust their top draft pick into the starting lineup from Day 1. There were expected hiccups. But when Johnson settled down after a forgettable outing against the New York Giants in Week 9, the line was among the better groups in the league. Johnson has spent a lot of time in the weight room this offseason. He weighed 304 pounds a year ago this time and is now up to 317. If he can move as well as he did in Year 1 at that size, and progresses on a natural curve in Year 2, the Eagles could have their future left tackle.
Projected second team
Left tackle: Matt Tobin (6-6, 303), 23, 2d
Left guard: Allen Barbre (6-4, 310), 29, 7th
Center: David Molk (6-1, 300), 25, 2d
Right guard: Julian Vandervelde (6-2, 300), 26, 4th
Right tackle: Dennis Kelly (6-8, 321), 24, 3d
The Eagles carried nine offensive linemen last season with Barbre, Matt Tobin, Julian Vandervelde and Dennis Kelly as the four reserves. Vandervelde, who had never played center before last season, got a little garbage time action in 2013, but the backup spot is hardly his heading into camp. I put David Molk ahead of him for now, but they’ll likely split backup repetitions throughout the next several weeks. Molk has more experience at center and was an All American at Michigan, but was out of the NFL last season after playing briefly for the Chargers in 2012. One of the undrafted rookies that are currently listed as guards might want to add snapping duties to their resume if they want to challenge for a certain roster spot.
Barbre was the first lineman off the bench last season and did steady work jumping in for an injured Peters against the Packers. When the Mathis became news in March, I learned that the Eagles were implying they had enough confidence in Barbre to take his spot if need be. It’s possible they were simply posturing. Kelly has been vocal about Tobin’s progress, but he needs more in-game reps for the team to gauge whether he could be a starter at this level. He said the coaches wanted him to add more weight this offseason, but he’s still listed at 303. Perhaps he added more “good” weight and that is all the Eagles wanted.
Tobin was ahead of Kelly on the depth chart last season (first tackle in), despite the latter’s experience advantage. Kelly underwent surgery last August to correct a herniated disk and didn’t completely return until October. It’s difficult to ascertain what Kelly thinks of the mammoth linemen, who was drafted a year before he arrived. Kelly started in ten games as a rookie – three at right guard. So his versatility could come in handy.
Josh Andrews (6-2, 311), guard, 22, rookie; Michael Bamiro, (6-8, 340), tackle, 23, 1st; Karim Barton (6-2, 313), guard, 22, rookie; Andrew Gardner (6-6, 308), tackle, 28, 5th; Kevin Graf (6-6, 309), tackle, 22, rookie; Donald Hawkins (6-4, 301), guard, 22, rookie.
The Eagles saw an obvious need to add depth to the interior line and signed three undrafted rookie guards (Josh Andrews, Karim Barton, Donald Hawkins). Of the three, I’ve gotten some positive reports about Hawkins’ performance during rookie camp. I wouldn’t expect any of them to win a roster spot, but there are always surprises (see: Tobin) and practice squad spots to fill.
The most interesting from the above list remains Michael Bamiro, simply because of his size and because the Eagles saw enough potential to keep him on the practice squad all of last season. The Eagles conceded that he was a project and I’m not sure if the light will go off this year. Andrew Gardner was signed in January after four journeyman seasons in the NFL. He has eight NFL games on his resume. The Eagles will likely add some more veterans over the coming months once some of the undrafted rookies are weeded out.