Eagles name rookie Kelce starting center

Eagles name rookie Kelce starting center
August 29, 2011, 6:31 pm
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The transformation is complete.

With offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinwegs announcement Monday morning that the Eagles will proceed with rookie Jason Kelce as the starting center, the Eagles have finished rebuilding an offensive line that has only one player left from last years line.

Mornhinweg confirmed what has been suspected for several weeks now. Jamaal Jackson, whos been the Eagles starting center every game when healthy since the middle of the 2005 season, is out. And Kelce, a rookie sixth-round pick from Cincinnati, is in.

Kelce has been working with the first group since a week ago Saturday, but until Monday, head coach Andy Reid and Mornhinweg had painted the center position as an open competition.

Its no longer open.

Just have to stay professional, keep doing what Im asked to do, work hard and hopefully Ill get back in there, Jackson said before practice Monday. Im a team player first, so Ill do whats best for the team. Still got to come to work every day and still have to compete, so thats what Im going to try to do.

Only left tackle Jason Peters is back from last years offensive line, which included Todd Herremans at left guard, Jackson and Mike McGlynn at center, Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles at right guard and Winston Justice at right tackle.

Herremans, the left guard since 2006, was moved permanently to right tackle on Saturday, a move that was forced by Winston Justices lingering knee soreness following two off-season surgeries. Veteran Evan Mathis, who joined the Eagles a week into training camp, took over at left guard.

With Kelce and rookie first-round pick Danny Watkins at right guard, the Eagles have two rookie offensive linemen in the starting lineup for only the third time in the last 60 years.

The last NFL team to reach the playoffs with two rookies starting on the offensive line was the 2005 Patriots, with Nick Kaczur and Logan Mankins.

I know it can work, Mornhinweg said. Im very confident that it will work. Im real confident that they will be playing at a high level very quickly.

Is it a risk to start two rookies on the offensive line, a right tackle who hasnt played tackle in six years and a left guard who just joined the Eagles a month ago?

Theres risk in just about everything you do, Mornhinweg said. Theres a risk in staying put, as well.

That Watkins would become a starter surprised nobody. He was the 23rd pick in the draft and was essentially given the starting spot on draft day. It didnt hurt that the two guys who manned right guard last year -- Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole -- were fringe NFL players and not brought back.

But Kelce? He was the 191st pick in the draft. The last offensive lineman drafted as low as the sixth round to start for the Eagles as a rookie was Ken Reeves back in 1985.

I didnt see it coming, lets put it that way, Kelce said. Im very confident in what I can do (but) I didnt come into this expecting it.

Kelce, at 280 pounds, is 45 pounds lighter than Jackson and more of a prototypical Howard Mudd kind of guy. Smaller, faster, quicker, more athletic.

In fact, the interior of this years offensive line is an average of 35 pounds per man lighter than last years. Thats 105 fewer pounds up the middle against some pretty big, physical defensive lines.

The scheme suits my ability as a player, and I think thats why they drafted me, Kelce said. From a mental aspect, I pick things up pretty quickly, quicker than most people. I think its just a really good situation I was able to come into."

If he does indeed start the opener, Kelce will be only the second rookie at any position drafted in the sixth round or later to start an opener in Reids 13 years as Eagles head coach. Tight end Jed Weaver started the 1999 opener.

The three rookies who have started an opener on the O-line for Reid are John Welbourn at right tackle and Doug Brzyzinski at left guard in 1999 and Shawn Andrews at right guard in 2004. Welbourn and Andrews both suffered season-ending injuries in the opener, so Brzyzinski is the only rookie whos started a full season on the offensive line under Reid.

Im definitely pleased with myself so far, Kelce said. Was put in a rough situation with the lockout and everything like that, and Ive got to give a lot of credit to Jamaal and the other veterans whove done a great job helping me progress.

Im happy. I dont know what else to say. Im going to be able to play on Sundays.

As for the 31-year-old Jackson, it remains to be seen whether the Eagles will keep him around as a backup, try to trade him to a team looking for veteran depth or simply release him. Jackson said Monday he has gotten some reps at guard, so he could be an insurance policy in case Watkins struggles.

Im not the general manager, so youre asking the wrong person that question, he said. My whole mind set is to come to work every day, work hard, do what I can to help this team win. Thats been my goal since Day 1 and it will continue to be my goal.

Im not one to say whats fair and whats not fair. If they feel its best for the team, then I agree with them.

Asked if he expected this to happen, knowing that Mudd prefers smaller, quicker linemen and Kelce weighs just 280, Jackson said: Then its up to the player to change his mind. It all boils down to what I have to do, what I have to get better at, and Ill move forward from this.

Mornhinweg wouldnt rule out this newly constructed offensive line actually getting some work together Thursday night against the Jets in the preseason finale at the Meadowlands. That would go against convention for Reid, who never plays his rookies in the final preseason game.

Either way, its likely that this offensive line will be a work in progress. The expectation is that the line that finishes the season will be much better and more cohesive than the group that faces the Rams in 13 days.

Weve really done a good job of progressing since camp has started, Kelce said. Were going to be as ready as we can be.

E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

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