Without a doubt, one of the most pleasant surprises of the preseason for the Philadelphia Eagles has been the performance of their second-string offensive line. Widely believed to be one of the club’s biggest holes entering training camp, the unit's depth has dominated the competition when called upon.
Sure, the group of Andrew Gardner, Matt Tobin, David Molk, Dennis Kelly and Lane Johnson has largely been working against other backups or players who won’t even be on an NFL teams this season. However, in Philly’s Week 3 preseason game, the reserves actually paved the way for a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top defensive unit.
How effective have the Eagles’ B-team offensive linemen been? Two of them grade among the best in the entire NFL this preseason, according to metrics site Pro Football Focus.
No, not Johnson, either, the 2013 fourth overall draft pick who was demoted from his position as the starting right tackle while he gets set to serve a four-game suspension.
Based on PFF’s cumulative scores, Tobin grades as the best offensive guard in the NFL so far this summer, and it isn’t even close. Signed as an undrafted rookie out of Iowa in ‘13, Tobin kicked inside from his normal spot at tackle this year, the Eagles’ thinking being they can turn him into a swing linemen capable of playing multiple positions.
So far, that experiment seems to be running smoothly. Tobin has been a force, particularly in the ground attack, where he has the mean streak to maul defenders and the athleticism to get to the second level.
Those four touchdowns Matthew Tucker has rushed for this preseason? They’ve largely come on goal-line situations where the back is sneaking in behind Tobin while the 6’6”, 290-pound guard drives the pile into the end zone.
Tobin has company at the top. To his right, Molk has likely wrapped up the roster spot behind Jason Kelce with a strong summer. Molk rates second overall among all centers this preseason according to the game charters at PFF.
Signed to a futures contract back in January, Molk’s spot was likely sealed by Julian Vandervelde’s back injury. Then again, the way he’s played, there’s a reasonable chance Molk would’ve beaten out a fourth-year veteran who’s never really stood out much since Philadelphia used a fifth-round pick in 2011.
Molk, a 2012 seventh-round pick out of Michigan, played just 15 snaps for the San Diego Chargers as a rookie before being released and spending last season out of football. The Eagles did invite him in for a workout during Week 2 of the regular season—conveniently, ahead of their meeting with the Chargers—but didn’t sign him until months later.
The 2011 Rimington Trophy winner for best center in college football, Molk is an interesting prospect. The 6'1", 290-pounder's 41 bench press reps at the 2012 scouting combine were tops among all offensive linemen and second most of all the athletes invited that year.
For what it’s worth, Gardner, Kelly and Johnson have all scored positively in PFF’s grades as well.
For a couple of players pick up off the scrap heap, though, Tobin and Molk are looking like much more than camp bodies now. Both seemingly have roster spots locked up, both look like they could perform halfway respectably if called upon in a pinch.
Obviously, sample sizes are small in the preseason, and it must be stressed again they’ve largely been working against other backups. Nor is PFF an infallible source.
That being said, there’s no denying the entire unit has passed the eye test this summer. Backup quarterback Mark Sanchez has barely thrown an incomplete pass during the preseason, while the club is averaging over six yards per rushing attempt. If nothing else, it should certainly ease concerns about potentially having to plug one of these guys in later in the year.