If the Philadelphia Eagles had one glaring deficiency (they actually had a handful) during the Chip Kelly era, it was the offensive line. In three drafts during Kelly’s tenure as head coach, the Eagles took just one offensive lineman – Lane Johnson. By the most curious of coincidences, the Eagles increasingly struggled to run the ball effectively and protect their quarterbacks as Kelly’s regime
With an already weak unit threatened by injuries, age, and a looming suspension, let’s breakdown what to expect from the offensive linemen in 2016.
Eagles 2016 Training Camp Offensive Line
A Few Good Men: Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce
Jason Peters will someday be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has been the best player on the Eagles since they traded first, fourth, and sixth-round picks to the Buffalo Bills for his services in 2009. In his prime, he was 330-pound poetry in motion. It wasn’t unusual for Peters to block three different defenders en route to a LeSean McCoy touchdown. Sadly, Peters has begun to slow down and seems to be hurt almost as much as he is healthy. It’s possible that the effects of Father Time were magnified by the brutal practice schedule and constant up-tempo play demanded by Chip Kelly, but at 34 it’s reasonable to wonder how much Peters has left.
Lane Johnson was the heir apparent to the critical left tackle position that Peters has locked down since 2009, but his future has come into question with his second failed test for performance enhancing drugs. While Johnson has adamantly and angrily denied purposely taking illegal substances, the odds of a successful appeal are very slim. The NFL holds its players responsible for what is in their bodies – whether the supplement is accurately labeled or not. The Eagles can assume Johnson will not be able to practice or play with the team until after week 11 (their bye is in week 4). Johnson, if suspended, could also have the six-year, $66 million contract he signed in the offseason voided.
On a brighter note, Brandon Brooks, who the Eagles signed this offseason, has played well in camp and in the preseason. He stands poised to be the best offensive lineman on the team during Johnson’s expected suspension. Brooks has already ingratiated himself with Eagles fans by humorously documenting his exploration of Philadelphia and rooting for the other Philly teams on Twitter. Coming out of Miami University (of Ohio), Brooks did not receive an invite to the NFL Combine. The Texans drafted him in the third round and he has turned into the sort of hard-working and fun-loving player with whom Eagles fans could really fall in love.
Jason Kelce had a pretty rough year last season. From botched snaps and fumbles, to befuddling whiffs on blocking assignments, it was hard to watch a player that had played at such a high level come apart the way that Kelce seemed to in 2015. I expect Kelce to bounce back in 2016 largely due to the reintroduction of a simple tactic called the snap count. Eagles players revealed that under Chip Kelly, there was basically one snap count, due to the no-huddle, two-minute drill tempo that was status quo. No player is harmed more by the lack of varied snap counts than the center. Kelce had to snap the ball and block defenders that pinned their ears back and fired off the line without fear of jumping offsides. In addition to that, Kelce played with rather weak guards on either side of him last year. I expect that having Brooks on his right, and the benefit of huddling and changing snap counts, will rejuvenate Jason Kelce for the 2016 season.
A New Hope: Isaac Seumalo, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Stefen Wisniewski, and the UFAs
Due to the dire state of the Eagles’ offensive line, Howie Roseman and the Eagles’ front office made improving the OL an offseason priority. The Eagles used a third and fifth-round draft pick on Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, respectively, and also brought in two undrafted free agent linemen – Darrell Greene and Dillon Gordon.
The Eagles have high hopes for Seumalo who, despite being a rookie, will likely have to start at left guard (with Allen Barbre probably moving to right tackle) to open the season thanks to the anticipated Lane Johnson suspension. Vaitai certainly has the body of an NFL tackle, but questions about his quickness and lack of polish pushed him down in the draft. The Eagles had hoped he could have some time to develop, but he may be forced into duty earlier than expected. Free agent acquisition and former Nittany Lion Stefen Wisniewski will provide depth along the line, and though he is a journeyman, he is also an upgrade over about half of the starters on the OL from last season.
The undrafted free agents Greene and Gordon both have interesting stories. Greene would have been a borderline draft pick (6th or 7th round) had he not served a six-game suspension in college after testing positive for marijuana. The failed drug test pushed him off the boards for teams and the Eagles brought him in as an UFA. Greene has a reputation for working hard in games and practice, but perhaps is lacking in elite athleticism. Gordon played tight end at LSU. At 322 lbs, you can imagine he lacks the speed necessary to play that position in the NFL. However, if Gordon makes the roster, look for some clever plays with number 69 being declared eligible (nice).
Average Joe Versus the Volcano: Allen Barbre,
Andrew Gardner, Matt Tobin, Josh Andrews, Barrett Jones
Poor Andrew Gardner didn’t make it past the team’s first round of cuts, even after agreeing to a pay cut from the Eagles. It’s been a tough two weeks for that young man. There’s not a ton to say about these players. Andrews was the backup center, but with Wisniewski in town, he may be expendable. Allen Barbre is fine, but he’s no all-pro. Matt Tobin still makes me think of that weed that Gandalf and Bilbo were smoking in the Fellowship of the Ring; also he is terrible. Barrett Jones will likely land on a practice squad (he was on the Steelers’ and Bears’ practice squads in 2015) – either in Philly or elsewhere. Dennis Kelly would have made this list, but was traded to Tennessee for Dorial Green-Beckham.
As frustrating as the Lane Johnson news was (and is), there is reason for optimism with the Eagles’ offensive line. Rookies Seumalo and Vaitai (and Greene and Gordon) could potentially develop into a nice, young group before too long. The drafting of those players, coupled with the addition of veterans like Brooks and Wisniewski, signals the end to the Eagles curious and ill-advised boycott of good offensive linemen. Eagles fans (and certainly Carson Wentz) have reason to celebrate this philosophical shift, whatever the win-loss totals are in 2016.
What do you expect from the O line this season? What should the Eagles do about Lane Johnson? How much does Jason Peters have left? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below.