Can Eagles survive four games with Allen Barbre at right tackle?

Can Eagles survive four games with Allen Barbre at right tackle?
July 28, 2014, 4:15 pm
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To no one's surprise, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly named Allen Barbre the starting right tackle while Lane Johnson is out serving his four-game suspension for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug. Somewhat more surprising was Kelly's leaving the door open for Barbre to hang on to the job even after Johnson is eligible to return.

Part of that is just Chip not wanting to back himself into a corner, or allowing the cream to rise to the top as he likes to say. If Barbre is playing exceptionally well, it wouldn’t make sense to disrupt the offensive line’s continuity. Or, if Johnson returns and is not in football shape, plugging him right back into the lineup may only make things worse.

That’s all well and good… in theory. Often times when a starter goes down along the O-line, everybody is kind of hoping the team can survive the loss.

Opinions are high on Barbre right now in Philadelphia. He has seven seasons worth of NFL experience under his belt. He performed quite capably in a handful of relief appearances last year. And the team thought so highly of his work, it signed him to to a three-contract extension in June.

Yet there’s a reason Barbre spent time with four other franchises before finally landing on his feet in Philadelphia. Plus, as well as he performed last season, 86 snaps is a small sample size to go off of — essentially a game’s worth. And that contract extension? Not exactly for big money or coming with a lot of guarantees.

Barbre is still a reserve lineman. Maybe the light bulb finally went on last year for the former fourth-round pick by the Green Bay Packers. Maybe Kelly’s blocking schemes suit Barbre’s strengths. But how much confidence can you really have in a journeyman based on the little that we’ve seen?

Granted, the Eagles can probably “hide” Barbre in some aspects. Tight end Brent Celek can help him with his assignments if necessary. Kelly’s play-calling can rely on quick passes designed to get the ball out quickly, which if the early proceedings at training camp have been any indication, is the direction the offense is trending anyway.

Then again, one area where we could see a very noticeable drop-off is in the running game. Even when he was struggling in pass protection early in the season, Johnson was a decent run blocker, and fairly formidable by the end of the year. No two ways about it, he played a huge role in LeSean McCoy’s first rushing title.

Will Barbre have a similar type of impact on the ground attack? And if no, will McCoy’s production slip at all over the first four weeks of the season?

There’s no real way of knowing, but I don’t see why anybody would assume Barbre can step right into Johnson’s shoes and play at a high level for that length of time. This is the same Johnson who was the fourth overall pick of last year’s draft — one of the building blocks of the franchise.

Fortunately, the way the schedule shakes out, the Eagles might be catching something of a break.

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense stands to be improved under second-year coach Gus Bradley — they exhibited some positive signs during the second half last season. That being said, whether it’s veteran Chad Henne or rookie Blake Bortles under center, their offense is still likely to be behind the curve going on the road in Week 1.

Week 2 has the Eagles heading to Indianapolis for a game Monday night against Andrew Luck and the Colts that has shootout written all over it. The Birds definitely got some good news when Indy’s top pass-rusher and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Robert Mathis also wound up being suspended for four games for PEDs.

Next, the Eagles play host to Washington, owners of one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2013. The Redskins do have some quality outside linebackers who can wreak havoc off of the edges in Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. As a unit, however, only the Minnesota Vikings surrendered more points last season.

Week 4 is easily the toughest matchup as the Birds travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers, who have had one of the toughest defenses in the league for awhile now. That would be one of the toughest matchups on the schedule even if Johnson were playing.

No matter how you look at it, though, I’m not sure you can describe any of these games as “gimmes.”

Who knows, maybe Barbre’s strong play from last season will carry over, but I haven’t seen enough to feel totally comfortable with him starting four games at right tackle. What we know now is his presence in the lineup could potentially be the biggest story to watch over the first four games of the season.