With the signing of first round draft pick Lane Johnson, the Eagles offensive line will be ready for the start of training camp. From left to right, the projected starters are Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, and Johnson. On paper, it looks a strong line. All of the returning players are highly regarded, and adding a top draft pick into the mix should only improve matters.
The problem is: Games aren’t played on paper. If they were, the Eagles would have had an exemplary group of cornerbacks the past couple of years. So while the offensive line could indeed be one of the league’s best in 2013, there are also some causes for concern.
One factor that will affect all of the linemen is a change in offensive line coaches. Howard Mudd has returned to retirement and was replaced by Jeff Stoutland. Mudd’s system wasn’t a good fit for everyone (Demetress Bell!) but the returning starters all seemed to excel in it. Will they experience the same success in Stoutland’s system?
Here’s a look at each of the projected starters and the uncertainty that surrounds them:
Two years ago, Peters was considered the best offensive tackle in football. Color commentators couldn’t stop raving about his play and he was named to the All-Pro team.
Peters missed the entire 2012 season with a torn Achilles tendon. (He later suffered a re-occurrence of the same injury) He is expected to be ready for the start of camp, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll return to his once-dominating form. Even the best athletes can be diminished by a major leg injury. (Just ask Phillies fans who have had to watch Ryan Howard’s decline over the past couple of seasons.)
One of the things that made Peters so great was the way he was able to get to the second level and take out linebackers. If his speed is diminished, will he still be able to do that as effectively?
It should also be noted that before 2011, Peters was actually viewed as a bit of disappointment. He had stretches of dominant play, but he would also suffer through lapses. Now that he’s dealing with both an injury as well as a new offensive system, it is possible that we might see some of those lapses return.
Since joining the team in 2012, Mathis has been solid. Last season, he was the only starter to stay healthy throughout the season, and was named the best guard in football by Pro Football Focus. But even he has a minor injury concern, as he had an offseason procedure to “clean out” his ankle.
Mathis is relatively small and athletic for an offensive lineman, which made him ideal for Mudd’s system. In fact, it was Mudd’s presence that caused Mathis to sign with the Eagles in the first place. But head coach Chip Kelly has said that he favors larger players. If he prefers his linemen to be more physically dominant, then it isn’t inconceivable that Mathis could soon be on his way out.
Much like Peters, Kelce’s 2012 season was ruined by an injury. Coming off an encouraging rookie year, Kelce’s second season came to a disappointing end when he suffered a knee injury in week two.
Kelce is another player who was considered an ideal Mudd lineman. It was Mudd who advocated handing the rookie the starting job in 2012, favoring him over veteran Jamaal Jackson. Much like Mathis, Kelce might not be viewed as highly by the new regime.
Herremans also saw his 2012 season cut short due to injury. (It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that the offensive line struggled in 2012) In addition to rehabbing and learning a new offensive system, Herremans will also have to learn a new position. He is expected to shift from right tackle to right guard to make room for Johnson.
This will be the fourth position at which Herremans has played. While he has performed admirably at each position, you have to wonder if all the switching will hurt his performance. At 31, Herremans is on the older side for an NFL player. At his age, it might be asking a lot to learn yet another new position.
As the #4 overall pick in the draft, Johnson is expected to be a star. Then again, so was Antone Davis. Johnson is reportedly still very raw, and even if he does eventually live up to his lofty draft status, there are bound to be some missteps along the way. On the bright side, unlike his line mates, he’s coming in with a clean bill of health.
Based on the injury history of the Eagles’ linemen, there’s a good chance at least one of them misses some playing time. This is worrisome because there appears to be a significant drop off in talent level of the projected backups (Danny Watkins, Dennis Kelly) If the starters miss too much time, we might see the quarterbacks running for their lives.
Based on the reputations of the starters, it’s not difficult to envision the offensive line being a strength for the 2013 Eagles. Unfortunately, based on the reasons I just explained, I am worried that it might not be as much of strength as they expect.
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Topics: Danny Watkins, Dennis Kelly, Evan Mathis, Football, Howard Mudd, Jason Kelce, Jason Peters, Jeff Stoutland, Lane Johnson, Mike Lacy, NFL, NFL Training Camp, Offensive Line, Philadelphia Eagles, Todd Herremans