The Danny Watkins Era is over before it began.
Eagles head coach Andy Reid has benched Watkins, the rookie first-round pick, four days before the season opener against the Rams and replaced him with veteran Kyle DeVan, whos only been with the team for four days.
Sometimes its good to take one small step back to take one big step forward, Reid said.
Reid, meeting with the media Wednesday morning, declined to name his starting right guard, and Watkins wouldnt confirm whether hed been benched. But a team source confirmed that DeVan took all the practice reps with the first offense at walkthrough on Wednesday morning, would get all the reps at right guard the rest of the week and will start against the Rams in St. Louis on Sunday.
He doesnt really want us talking about it, Watkins said when asked about his demotion. Im not going to get into that.
DeVan started 21 games at guard for the Colts in 2009 and 2010, including nine regular-season games and three playoff games at right guard under current Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd in 2009. He started for the Colts in their 2009 Super Bowl loss to the Saints.
Thanks to his familiarity with Mudd, DeVan is already ahead of Watkins, even though Wednesday was his first full practice day in an Eagles uniform.
Im not worried about starting, DeVan said. Im going to go out there and do my thing and let things end up where they end up. Im not worried about it at all.
DeVan becomes the fifth right guard the Eagles have tried since Shawn Andrews Eagles career ended with severe back problems early in the 2008 season. He follows Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole, whove started most of the games the last three years; Stacy Andrews, a big-money free agent failure who was benched after starting the 2009 opener; and Watkins, the 23rd pick in this years draft.
DeVan is also the second member of the projected opening-day starting offensive line who wasnt with the team when the preseason began. Left guard Evan Mathis signed on July 30.
Ill play whatever role I need to play, whether its helping the young guys with the technique to use or helping the veterans, said DeVan, awarded to the Eagles on waivers on Sunday. Theyll help me out with calls and go over things Howard wants done.
Watkins said his approach to his first NFL regular-season week wont change, whether hes the starter or a backup.
Nothings changed for me, Watkins said. Approaching it just like any other week. Just getting familiar with the Rams blitz and defensive front.
Reid raised eyebrows at his Wednesday morning media briefing when he declined to confirm that Watkins would start the opener.
We have flexibility there to do whatever we want to do, Reid said. Im not going to get into all the personnel things here.
That seemed odd, considering Reid named Watkins the starter on draft day back in April and hadnt wavered in his support of the 26-year-old rookie from Baylor since.
At least, until now. Once the Eagles acquired DeVan, released Saturday by the Colts, the Watkins watch was on.
The obvious thing with DeVan is that he started a few years for Howard and the Colts when Howard left and did a nice job, Reid said in not announcing Watkins demotion. He was a starting guard on a Super Bowl team, and so he knows Howards system, which were using right now. So thats a positive thing.
Watkins struggled throughout training camp and the preseason games. He found himself so far behind last week that he asked to play in the preseason finale against the Jets, a rarity for any starter under Reid.
Ive said since Day 1, its going to be a grind learning it, Watkins said. Im never done learning it and working on it. So its going to be a thing in progress.
Reid said Wednesday Watkins struggles shouldnt be that surprising, considering hes playing a new position, he didnt have OTAs or minicamps, hes only been playing organized football for four years and he missed the first week of training camp in a contract impasse.
When you move from the college to the pros, thats a big deal, Reid said. When you move from tackle to guard thats another tough deal. And, when you move from the left side to the right thats another tough deal. Then you add on to it missing part of camp. So hes been playing a catch-up game all the way through.
Watkins wouldnt allow whether his demotion was disappointing but did concede its been hard making the transition from college to the NFL.
Its been difficult for everyone, without rookie OTAs and just learning everything at the last second, he said. Its difficult for everybody.
Since the first preseason game, the Eagles have used one left tackle, two left guards, two centers, two right guards and three right tackles on the first offensive line. Going back to the start of training camp, 13 different players have taken reps with the first line.
Center Jason Kelse, now the only rookie starter on offense, said the linemen are used to change and said it doesnt affect them.
I dont think it really matters whos in there, Kelce said. What I do isnt going to change up too much. Pretty much the whole preseason I was working with different guys, different left guards, guys in and out, Jamaal Jackson and me in and out, so I think guys are used to working with different guys.
It definitely keeps you on your toes. You never get too comfortable.
CSNPhilly.coms Dave Zangaro contributed to this story.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org