Last year, the Eagles opened the season with a whopping 11 offensive linemen on their season-opening roster.
Part of the reason for that high number was right tackle Lane Johnson’s pending 10-game PED suspension.
But an even bigger part of the reason was that they just didn’t have many experienced backups. So they decided to throw numbers at the problem.
Just two of the six backups they went into last season with – Stefen Wisniewski and Matt Tobin – ever had started an NFL game, or, for that matter, had ever played an offensive snap in the league.
Fast forward to Saturday. When the Eagles finished reducing their roster to the league-mandated 53 players, the list included just eight offensive linemen, which was a bit of a surprise.
“It’s certainly different than we’ve done in the past,’’ executive vice-president of football operations Howie Roseman said. “We like offensive linemen. But we feel really good about our eight.
“We felt there were a lot of young players that we had. There’s still the potential to bring some of them back (on the 10-man practice squad). We’ll try to balance that with our grading of those guys.’’
The Eagles also could pick up another offensive lineman off the waiver wire in the next couple of days.
The Eagles made 17 roster reductions Saturday. Six of the 17 they dumped were offensive linemen – Dallas Thomas, Josh Andrews, Dillon Gordon, Darrell Greene, Taylor Hart and Aaron Neary.
That leaves their five starters – tackles Johnson and Jason Peters, guards Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo and center Jason Kelce; and three backups – center/guard Wisniewski, guard Chance Warmack and tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
On paper, they’re as deep as any team in the league.
Wisniewski, Warmack and Vaitai all have starting experience. In the case of Wisniewski and Warmack, a lot of it. Wisniewski, who is entering his seventh NFL season, has played in 93 games and has 83 starts, including six last year with the Eagles.
Warmack, who is entering his fifth season, has played in 48 games, starting all of them. And Vaitai played in seven games as a fifth-round rookie last year and started six.
“We think we have eight starters on the offensive line,’’ Roseman said. “We think Wiz and V and Chance are all starters in this league.
“I know I’ve said this before, but it’s hard to find offensive linemen. It’s hard to find those guys. When we look at the market for those guys and what they get paid, and having the opportunity to keep them together and under contract going forward, we think that’s a good issue for us to have.’’
Warmack, who signed a one-year deal with the Eagles in March, agreed to a one-year extension Saturday through 2018. That means all eight of the offensive linemen on the Eagles’ roster are under contract through at least ’18.
“We feel we’re very fortunate to have eight guys who can go in and play at a high level,’’ Roseman said. “We want to keep that as a luxury [going forward] as far as protecting our quarterbacks. It’s a major thing for us.’’
That doesn’t mean all eight will be here next season. Peters will be 36 in January and is a year-to-year proposition. And if Kelce doesn’t play better than he did last season, there’s a good chance he won’t be back.
There is sentiment by some people in the organization to move the bigger, more powerful Seumalo to center. The fact that they now have Warmack under contract through ’18 and Wisniewski through ’19, certainly gives them the flexibility to do that at some point.
Going into training camp, there appeared to be some doubt as to whether Warmack would even make the team. He was the 10th player taken in the 2013 draft by the Tennessee Titans and started every game he played for them.
But he never was the dominant player in Nashville that he was in college at Alabama, where he played for Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
After he suffered a hand injury last year and played in just two games, the Titans didn’t try to re-sign him. He signed with the Eagles largely because he wanted to play for Stoutland again.
You generally want your backups to be able to play more than one position. Wisniewski can play either center or guard. In the past, the Eagles almost always have carried at least one “swing’’ backup who could play both guard and tackle.
But Vaitai is strictly a tackle and Warmack is strictly a guard, though both can play on either side.
Teams typically only activate seven offensive linemen on game day. If the Eagles go that route, Warmack probably will be the odd man out.
“Chance and I have had a lot of success together in the past,’’ Stoutland said, referring to their days together at Alabama when he was on Nick Saban’s staff. “I know Chance like the back of my hand. I know his strengths. I know what his vulnerabilities are.’’
The 6-2, 323-pound Warmack is a punishing run-blocker. He is the epitome of the football term “road-grader.’’ But he doesn’t have great feet and has struggled with his pass-blocking.
“Chance to me, if you watched him in the preseason, he’s using his hands,’’ Stoutland said. “He’s got violent hands.
“When it does is enable him to stay in balance and move around and locate his feet. He’s physical in the run game. He’ll pound you in the run game.’’