Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Offensive Line

Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Offensive Line

We continue our training camp preview by breaking down the Eagles at offensive line, which is primed to go from rags to riches with three starters returning from injury and the fourth-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft joining the unit.

[ Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp:
Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End
Defensive Line | Linebackers | Cornerback | Safety ]

Can Jason Peters make a full recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon?

That, my friends, is the million dollar question. The 2012 campaign was effectively over before it ever began for the Eagles once Peters ruptured his Achilles during a private offseason workout, then again some weeks later while trying to roll-a-bout his home. Without an elite left tackle to anchor the offensive line, it made everyone’s job more difficult, to the degree where even if center Jason Kelce and right tackle Todd Herremans hadn’t followed suit with season-ending injuries of their own, the unit probably would not have been a strong one.

The good news is Peters was back participating in practices with the rest of the team this year, and he certainly sounds healthy. We hear you would never even be able to tell he had been so seriously hurt if you weren't already aware in the first place.

But that’s understandably a little hard for some to believe. Achilles injuries are among the worst in sports, at least as far as what could be considered commonplace. It’s even harder on a man as large as Peters (6-4, 340). Philly fans are getting a taste of that with Ryan Howard, who weighs somewhere around 100 lbs. less, and continues to experience other foot and knee problems in the same leg since his blew up nearly two years ago. Peters has to rely much more on athleticism and at least as much on leverage – and he’s had two procedures on it now.

Ultimately the answer here is who knows. We won’t truly find out until he is trying to get to the second and third level to set blocks down the field for LeSean McCoy, or when he’s going one-on-one with a Hall-of-Fame pass rusher the likes of DeMarcus Ware. If there are any positives here, it’s that Peters will be roughly a year-and-a-half removed from surgery by the time he plays his first meaningful game. Regardless, we have to be skeptical whether at 31 years old he’ll ever be one of the most dominant players in the NFL again.

Will Lane Johnson stand out during his rookie season?

I kind of hope not. Notice the choice of language in the question – or lack thereof in this case. An offensive lineman can stand out in a positive way, like Peters in ’11 when he was rounding into what many believed was the best left tackle in football. Or he can stand out in a negative way, like Danny Watkins has for the Eagles, when he wasn’t ready to start on opening day of his rookie season, and has been something of a turnstile ever since.

There’s a chance Lane Johnson, the fourth-overall pick of the draft, just “gets it.” Described as a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense due to his athleticism, maybe he comes in and immediately sets a tone, showcasing the rare ability to bookend the Birds’ offensive line for the next decade.

Then again, that might be a fairy tale of sorts. Like Watkins before him, Johnson is extremely inexperienced, playing just two seasons of college ball on Oklahoma's line. Clearly he has the tools to develop into a cornerstone of the O-line, if not a Pro Bowler someday, but he is incredibly raw. As a rookie, you more or less have to hope he can just blend in with the rest of group, because chances are "standing out" could mean he’s having trouble adapting.

One thing I really like about Johnson that has been undersold is his football IQ. He’s played all over the field, from quarterback, to tight end, to defensive end, so he understands the game from a variety of perspectives. Those experiences should only aid his learning and development. That said, we shouldn’t be disappointed if he has a quiet rookie season – it may even be for the best.

How easily can Todd Herremans transition to right guard?

It shouldn’t be a problem for Herremans. This will be his third full-time position along the Eagles’ offensive line, and he’s held up no matter where the club has moved him to. Sliding back inside where he played for six of his eight NFL seasons should actually be an improvement, as Herremans struggled a bit at right tackle in his second year there with Peters out of the picture and the resulting increase in responsibilities.

And while Herremans previously played guard almost entirely on the left side for the Birds, lining up on the right isn’t exactly like taking a trip Mars or something. The broken bone in his foot has healed, so he should be good to go. There’s no real reason to anticipate any major issues as a result of this change.

Will Danny Watkins make the team?

You would have to think his spot on the roster is up for grabs, although it’s incredibly difficult to get a read on what’s going on with Watkins. Last season it was is he or isn’t he hurt. A supposed chronic ankle injury was the reason Andy Reid gave for removing the Watkins from the starting lineup, but that claim was often disputed, and hardly made sense given the 28 year old would dress most Sundays. Seems he was simply demoted.

Then the new coaching staff came in and was probably hoping to salvage Watkins for depth at least. Before mini-camps and OTAs were over though, Watkins was passed by the likes of journeyman Allen Barbre for first-team reps. Granted Chip Kelly has said not to make much of the depth chart, and star players such as DeSean Jackson have been known to run with the threes, but it still isn’t a good sign when a relative unknown such Barbre is out in front of a recent first-round pick.

I wouldn’t say that’s a necessarily sign Watkins’ time is running out, but I wouldn’t ignore it, either. There is plenty of other competition for those backup spots, too – Dennis Kelly did okay at tackle and pitched in at guard (less successfully) in his first year, 2011 fifth rounder Julian Vandervelde is still in the picture, as are Nate Menkin and Matt Tennant, a pair of players the Birds picked up off the scrap heap last season from Houston and New England respectively.

Little more than two years ago, Watkins was projected to be better than any of them, so you have to think the talent is there. Maybe he wasn’t a fit for departed offensive line coach Howard Mudd’s scheme, and will flourish under Jeff Stoutland. Mayve he simply doesn't have the heart. Whatever the case, the clock is ticking, and it might not be much of a stretch to imagine Watkins hanging off the back of a fire truck rather than standing on a football field come September.

Is Evan Mathis the best player on the Eagles’ roster right now?

You could make that argument. In fact, I believe we just did. Mathis isn’t even the best player on the offensive line if Peters is completely healthy and can regain his All-Pro form, but that’s far from a given. Based on last season, LeSean McCoy is somewhat dependent on the strength of the linemen in front of him. DeSean Jackson, Trent Cole… virtually anybody we can think of who might be in the conversation is coming off of one or multiple down years.

Except Mathis that is. He was probably the Eagles’ most valuable player last season, which isn’t saying much on a 4-12 team, but hey. He was their only lineman who started all 16 games, and he’s their only lineman period who actually played at a high level consistently. You probably couldn’t tell while defenders were constantly running free into the backfield, but he continued to be a rock at left guard.

For the second consecutive season Mathis ranked near the top of Pro Football Focus’ scoring for guards, while the site said he had the sixth-best year of any player in the NFL – up from 18 in 2011.

Hard as it may be to believe, Pro Bowl snubs or no, but a former journeyman lineman perhaps the only sure thing the Eagles have on their roster right now. Considering he signed a five-year contract worth $25 million last offseason, maybe you should pick up a No. 69 if you're in the market for a new jersey this summer.

Andrew Kulp is a freelance writer covering Philadelphia sports for The700Level.com. E-mail him at andrewkulp@comcast.net or follow him on Twitter.

LSU PG Tim Quarterman on Ben Simmons: 'He's a great teammate'

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LSU PG Tim Quarterman on Ben Simmons: 'He's a great teammate'

By now, Tim Quarterman is used to being asked about Ben Simmons.

The former LSU point guard declared for the NBA draft following his junior season and enter the same draft in which Simmons, the freshman phenom, is projected to be the No. 1 or No. 2 pick.

As Quarterman goes through his own pre-draft process, it's inevitable he'll have to field questions about his former teammate he calls “his little brother” along the way.

“He’s a great passer, he can handle the ball and he’s always there to cheer you on,” Quarterman said Monday following a workout with the Sixers on Monday. “He likes for other people to accomplish great accomplishments. He’s a great teammate.”

Simmons came under criticism during his freshman year for “quitting” on the Tigers. The team went 19-14 and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. They also chose not to participate in any other postseason tournaments. Even though Simmons averaged a team-high 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game, there was question over his effort.

Quarterman said that wasn’t the case.

"Ben is a great person, a great player and he's a great competitor, so I don't think throughout the season he ever quit on us," Quarterman said. “I think he continued to play hard. I think us losing frustrated a lot of  us as competitors because we always wanted to win.”

The Sixers have an edge evaluating Simmons. While he grew up thousands of miles from Philadelphia in Australia, it just so happens Brett Brown coached Simmons' father David during his extensive coaching career in Australia. Not only does Brown know Simmons’ family, he still is closely connected to those involved in his basketball career.

“I know the people that have worked with him all across the board,” Brown said. “That’s just one of the benefits of living in the country and 20 minutes from where he grew up for 17 years, short of my Sydney days where it makes it 12 years.”

Of course Quarterman didn't work out with the Sixers just to speak on Simmons. He is also fighting for a place in the NBA as well.

"Tim did a very good job creating for others," Brandon Williams, Sixers vice president of basketball administration, said. "What I'm impressed by is he's such a nuisance defensively, his length and athleticism. Then he showed his ability to create off the bounce."

Jordan Matthews Q&A: Doug vs. Chip; playing outside; Carson Wentz's savvy

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USA Today Images

Jordan Matthews Q&A: Doug vs. Chip; playing outside; Carson Wentz's savvy

Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews stopped by the Quick Slants set last week and addressed a number of topics with hosts Derrick Gunn and Reuben Frank.

Matthews, entering his third NFL season, has 152 receptions for 1,869 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first two seasons.

That’s the 10th-most catches, 34th-most yards and 15th-most touchdowns in NFL history by a player in his first two seasons.

Now, he has a new receivers coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new head coach and at some point soon a new quarterback.

Matthews spoke about all of the changes the Eagles have made, his disappointment in his early-season drops last year, his expectations for this year and much more during his visit to the Comcast SportsNet studios.

Here are some highlights from that interview:

Quick Slants: What’s it been like these first few months under new head coach Doug Pederson?

Jordan Matthews: “The family atmosphere has definitely been there. Having a coach that’s played here, he understands what it’s like to be in these shoes, play in the city of Philadelphia and have these high expectations. He’s put us in a great environment these first few weeks.”

QS: What’s been your initial reaction to Doug’s offense and how you’ll be used?

Matthews: “It’s definitely very versatile. We have a lot of situations where guys get to move around a lot more in the previous offense I played in, so that’s something that a lot of us have been excited about. Me in particular, I’m really excited to have the opportunity to go outside as much as inside, so now teams won’t be able to game plan for me in just one area. It’s been great learning it. The verbiage is definitely different. It’s not one word or signs or anything like that. We’re going in the huddle and I mean Sam’s spitting out the whole encyclopedia. But guys are getting it down, guys are learning. We’re having fun with it.”

QS: How tough was it to work through the drops early in the 2015 season?

Matthews: “It’s always frustrating because sometimes you think that, OK, just because you’re putting in all these hours that the immediate results are going to come right then, but that’s the thing about work: It’s not just going in and putting in the hours, but you also have to have faith in what you’re actually doing. Sometimes you’re not going to see those immediate results, sometimes you just have to take time and you just have to be patient with it. But I just know the expectations that I have on myself ... outside expectations I know they’re always big here, but I’m always going to be my hardest critic. So whatever people thought I might have been going through, trust me, I was beating myself up more about it than anybody was. I knew that I wasn’t playing up to my expectations but at the same time I knew I had to get through it, so I was glad I was able to finish the season the way I did but also know that type of play isn’t acceptable for me or for my teammates. That’s why going into these OTAs, I’ve been really big on the details for me and the rest of my receiving group. Getting on the JUGS machine, putting in extra time in the film room, making sure that we know everything we have to do on the field. So now that we know all the X's and O's, all we can focus on then is going out there and making plays and playing fast.”

QS: Can you compare Doug Pederson and Chip Kelly?

Matthews: “It’s crazy. Growing up in Alabama, you’re around a bunch of the country, family guys and that’s definitely Doug. But I also spent some time at Vanderbilt with the smart guys and that’s Chip, so I’ve basically had a Doug Pederson and a Chip Kelly in my lifetime just from my years of playing football. I know people like to compare and do all that kind of stuff, but it’s apples and oranges. Chip, when I was playing for him, he was a new head coach, and now it’s the same way with Doug and he’s going to do some things different than maybe what people (have) seen in the past. But I’ve had great experiences with both of them. I feel like I’m extremely lucky I’ve had the opportunity to work with both these guys.

QS: You’re as close to Sam Bradford as anybody on the team. What do you think of the way he handled the offseason?

Matthews: “Sometimes those situations can be blown up a little bit, especially when it’s the quarterback position because that is looked at as the leader on the field, so Sam understands that responsibility, and Sam understands that when it’s time to ball you’ve got to come out there and you’ve got to be the leader. He took his time that he needed, but at the same time he knew it was time to get back and get to work. Obviously, nobody is going to be thrilled when somebody gets drafted at their position, especially at the No. 2 pick. But it is a business, it is a lot more than just guys going out there and throwing the football around, it is about competition. And I think that’s the best thing that’s going to come out of this: It’s going to really fuel competition. Between Sam, Chase (Daniel) and Carson (Wentz) going out there and taking reps, it’s a good ball coming out there every single time. So if you come to our practices, you’ll see me running with the 1’s, the 2’s and the 3’s and I feel like that’s the best thing about it. Because that competition is really what’s going to help us push forward. Now guys can’t get complacent. You can’t think, ‘Oh, OK, I’ve made it, I’ve arrived.’ No. Every position, we’re bringing in guys that are going to go and compete for your spot. I’m loving it. From quarterback all the way down to long snapper.”

QS: Doug has said all along that Sam is the quarterback going into the season, but offensive coordinator Frank Reich said on WIP that there is open competition everywhere, including the quarterback position. It seems like the coach and offensive coordinator are sending out different messages.

Matthews: “There are different philosophies always going to come from different people. Obviously, Coach Pederson’s the head coach and he’s the captain of the ship, so we’ve got to go with him. I like coach Frank’s attitude, everybody’s got to go out and compete. It’s extremely early, so if anything, I side with both of then. Yes, it’s Sam Bradford’s team. He has to come out and he has to be the leader that we need. He has to run the offense, and we’re all looking at him to make sure he’s the quarterback who can take us where we want to go. But at the same time, you’ve got to come in every single day that somebody’s coming for your spot and you’ve got to go work for it.”

QS: What are your early impressions of Carson Wentz?

Matthews: “When I had my first time watching film with him, the type of shots he was talking about making ... he was like, ‘Hey, if this cornerback turns his head, I might try to throw this one deep,’ and I’m like, ‘Bro, I do not think that’s where the ball’s supposed to be going.’ But ... at the same time, I like it, because you can tell he plays the edge. You can tell he has that chip. You can tell he’s a guy who wants to take risks. I think one of the biggest attributes a quarterback can have that people overlook is savvy. The great ones, the Aaron Rodgerses of the world, the Tom Bradys, the Peyton Mannings, the Brett Favres, those legends, they’re great with the X’s and O’s but they have savvy. They’re not always going to go by the book. Sometimes, they’re just going to go make a play. Sometimes they’re going to say, ‘Hey, you’re my man right here, I’m coming to you, get open, I’m going to find you on the deep ball. And the way Carson was speaking, you can tell he wants to grow into that person and be that kind of quarterback. And then also he’s just a fun guy to be around. He and I were running routes just me and him one afternoon and then he was like, ‘Hey, I want to get some conditioning in.’ And Carson wanted to run routes. He was calling plays, he’s running corners and posts and I’m throwing to him. Everybody sees that serious side to him but he just loves the game. He wants to just be out there on the field, he wants to get to know guys, he also wants to take risks and I feel like he’s going to be really big for us going into the future.”

Rick MacLeish's Flyers teammates react to his passing

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Associated Press

Rick MacLeish's Flyers teammates react to his passing

PITTSBURGH -- Former Flyers captain and Hockey Hall of Famer Bob Clarke was Rick MacLeish’s teammate for 12 years and two Stanley Cups.
 
“Ricky was the most talented player the Flyers had during the 1970s,” said a saddened Clarke on Tuesday, after the announcement of MacLeish’s death at 66 late on Memorial Day (see story).
 
“Life after hockey wasn’t fair to Ricky. He left us far too soon.”
 
The center from Lindsay, Ontario, had been hospitalized in Philadelphia since mid-May while suffering from multiple medical issues, according to his daughter Brianna.
 
Here’s what other teammates had to say:
 
“Ricky was a special player for the Flyers,” said Bill Barber. “He always came up with scoring the big goals and he was instrumental helping us win two Stanley Cups. He will be greatly missed.”
 
Gary Dornhoefer was MacLeish's linemate with Ross Lonsberry for almost six seasons.
 
“I’ll tell you what, he was probably the fastest player on the ice,” Dornhoefer said. “As far as a wrist shot is concerned, there was no one better at getting that shot away and accurate. Ross and I would talk and say ‘let’s just give Ricky the puck and he’ll put it in.’
 
“If you look at the amount of goals he scored [328 as a Flyer], well, that’s why we kept giving him the puck. Ross and I had cement hands, so we’d pass the puck to him. The Flyers could have a mediocre game, but because of his skills as a player and the athlete that he was, he could carry us.
 
“He was that gifted. I always felt that during the years he played, he never got the recognition that he properly deserved. He was that good. It saddens me that he was such a young man and is no longer with us. That really hurts.”
 
Bob “The Hound” Kelly agreed.
 
“Rick was probably the most gifted, natural centerman that the Flyers have ever had,” Kelly said. “He was a tough kid who skated and worked hard.
 
“Although he played in the shadow of Clarkie, he was every bit as good as Clarkie. Clarkie was more of a natural leader where Rick was just quiet and simply went out there and played his heart out. He was a great guy and it is very sad that we had to lose him at such an early age.”
 
Joe Watson made a few comparisons.
 
“I’d put him up there with [Claude] Giroux, [Eric] Lindros and [Peter] Forsberg in terms of natural skill,” Watson said. “He was a great player and we’ll certainly miss him.”