Can the Philadelphia Eagles survive the first four weeks of the regular season with Allen Barbre at right tackle? We could catch a glimpse of what Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy are in store for behind the journeyman offensive lineman in preseason action at the Chicago Bears.
Bears head coach Mark Trestman has been coy about how much his starters will play in Friday night’s exhibition game. Assuming they go at all, though, 6’3”, 300-pound Lamarr Houston should be working against Barbre.
Signed to a five-year, $35 million contract during the offseason, Houston was one of the prize acquisitions in all of free agency. The 2010 second-round pick spent four seasons with the Oakland Raiders, racking up 228 tackles and 16 sacks while appearing in all 64 possible games.
Houston, 27, is coming off of arguably his best season. In addition to setting career highs with six sacks and two forced fumbles, metrics site Pro Football Focus ranked Houston first among all 4-3 defensive ends in run-stop percentage.
The Eagles were rumored to be interested in Houston, but nothing materialized on that front once free agency opened.
Barbre, of course, is starting in place of Lane Johnson, who faces a four-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs once the regular season gets underway. The general feeling around Philadelphia is the Birds can weather the storm with Barbre at right tackle in the meantime—and perhaps longer.
Much of that confidence is rooted in Barbre’s performance in 2013. The eighth-year veteran made seven relief appearances last season, most notably for Jason Peters at left tackle in a Week 10 win over the Green Bay Packers.
While Barbre was effective, we’re talking about a sample size of just 89 total snaps. Is that enough to change our entire perception of a player?
If so, what would 10 to 15 plays against Houston mean? That’s how many Eagles head coach Chip Kelly told reporters he expects his starters to play.
Prior to landing on his feet in Philly last year, Barbre played for three teams in seven seasons. A fourth-round pick of the Packers in ’07, Barbre struggled mightily in seven career starts. He became a camp casualty after three seasons, beginning a journey around the league that included a couple stints with Seattle and a cup of coffee in Miami.
The Eagles were so thrilled with Barbre’s performance, on the other hand, that they locked the 30-year-old into a three-year contract extension in June.
It’s possible the light finally came on for Barbre, or he’s simply a good fit for Kelly’s offense. However, there are reasons to be concerned, especially over an extended stretch like four games. That’s a quarter of the season, mind you.
Again, there’s sample size. The comfort level with Barbre is largely based on one game, and even that comes with a caveat. He primarily dueled Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews while the four-time Pro Bowler’s right hand was encased in a cast to protect a broken thumb, which seems like no minor detail.
Furthermore, Barbre has seldom played right tackle, so he’s facing something of a learning curve. Guess it’s a good thing he’ll have a chance to work out the kinks with a preseason slate.
A bit of faulty logic may be tricking some folks into believing the Eagles will be okay even if Barbre turns out to be a sub-standard starter. Johnson took his lumps as a rookie last season, and look how that turned out—2013 ended with a division title and trip to the playoffs.
Johnson settled down as the year went on, though. He was not a liability in pass protection in the second half, not to mention he was a plus run-blocker from start to finish.
The Eagles weren’t exactly doing just fine over the first eight games, when Johnson still resembled a turnstile. It’s no coincidence Philadelphia jumped out to a 3-5 record before eventually going 7-1 down the stretch.
Any way you slice it, Barbre is a huge step down in terms of ability from Johnson, the fourth overall pick of the draft in ’13.
Then again, Barbre doesn’t necessarily need to be as good as Johnson, either. He only needs to be good enough.
Given the gravity of the situation, even 10-15 snaps in a preseason encounter will be heavily scrutinized when it’s against a player of Houston’s caliber. Barbre is hoping to carry over last year’s momentum and instill confidence that he can handle the task at hand—especially considering his stay could be longer.
Kelly left the door open for Barbre to keep the job at right tackle once Johnson is eligible to return. It wouldn’t make sense to disrupt the line’s continuity if Barbre performs well, in addition to questions about Johnson’s preparedness to jump back into the flow of things right away.
That said, let’s see how Barbre handles 10-15 snaps first.