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.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson talks protesting anthem, Myke Tavarres doesn't

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson talks protesting anthem, Myke Tavarres doesn't

A day after flip-flopping on whether or not he planned to stand or sit during the national anthem, Myke Tavarres had nothing to say about this complex issue.

Tavarres, a rookie undrafted linebacker with the Eagles, told ESPN on Monday he planned to emulate 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and sit during the playing of the national anthem Thursday night prior to the Eagles’ preseason game against the Jets at The Linc.

Tavarres said he wanted to draw attention to racial inequality and social injustice with the demonstration.

"We’ve got an issue in this country in this day and age, and I feel like somebody needs to step up and we all need to step up,” Tavares  told ESPN.

But within a couple hours, Tavarres had changed his mind.

“Myke plans on standing for the national anthem,” his agent said in a statement. “Myke does not want to be a distraction to the Philadelphia Eagles organization. Mike’s goal is and will always be to make the Eagles’ 53-man roster and help the team win a Super Bowl.”

Kaepernick, who four years ago led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, spoke for 18½ minutes about his decision to sit during the Star-Spangled Banner.

Tavarres said at his locker after practice Tuesday he had nothing more to say.

“I made a statement through my agent last night,” he said. “If you have any other questions, please talk to him.”

Head coach Doug Pederson said he did not talk individually to Tavarres, a fringe prospect who is unlikely to survive this weekend’s roster cuts.

But he did discuss the broader issue in a meeting with the full team and said he believes his players should stand during the anthem.

“Listen, I can appreciate everybody's opinions and I respect everybody's opinions,” Pederson said.

“But at the same time, I feel that [the national anthem] is important and it's obviously out of respect for the men and women of our country that sacrifice in order for us to coach and play this great game.

“So I get it. I understand it. But at the same time, I encourage everybody to stand.”

If not yet suspended, Lane Johnson would start at RT in opener

If not yet suspended, Lane Johnson would start at RT in opener

The Eagles are just 12 days away from the season opener against the Browns. 

And Lane Johnson still isn't suspended. 

The Eagles' starting right tackle is facing a 10-game PED suspension once the B sample returns and shows the same peptide from an amino acid that his A sample did. Johnson expects it to, but it hasn't happened yet. On Aug. 13, after news broke about the looming suspension, Johnson said he thought the results from the B sample would come back in two to three weeks, although there's no set timetable.  

... Nothing yet. 

So, at what point do the Eagles, who shifted the offensive line in anticipation of the suspension, have to plan for Johnson to be active for the opener? 

"[That’s] a great question, and this is something that we wrestle with every day," head coach Doug Pederson said. "The conversations are such that we've got to have — especially offensively — just have a plan ready to go. 

"I'll tell you this: If he's ready to go, then he's our guy." 

Since news of the impending suspension broke, Johnson has been working with the second team at right tackle. To replace him, the Eagles moved Allen Barbre from left guard to right tackle and inserted rookie Isaac Seumalo at left guard. Seumalo stayed there until an injury forced Stefen Wisniewski into the lineup. 

If there's no suspension and Johnson is able to play in the opener, things would then shift back. Johnson would take his job at right tackle, and Barbre would go back to left guard, sending Seumalo and/or Wisniewski to the bench. 

"I think he had a tremendous camp and tremendous offseason at left guard, and you kind of put the pieces back in place," Pederson said of Barbre. "We've seen enough from the Isaacs and Wisniewskis, and Allen over there at right tackle that we know we've got the combination of guys — and ‘Big V’ (tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai) got plenty of reps — to sustain this thing through the duration."

For now, though, the Eagles aren't treating Johnson like a starter. The veteran will be playing on Thursday in the preseason finale against the Jets. It might be his last game until Nov. 28 against the Packers. Or not. 

The waiting game continues.

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts despite awful numbers vs. Max Scherzer

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts despite awful numbers vs. Max Scherzer

Despite having awful career numbers against Max Scherzer, Ryan Howard is in the Phillies' lineup against him Tuesday night.

Howard, 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against the Nationals' ace, bats fourth. 

Howard seems to be coming back to Earth. He hit .357 with seven home runs, four doubles and 16 RBIs in his first 20 games out of the All-Star break, but has gone 2 for 16 with two singles and eight strikeouts since.

Jimmy Paredes gets another start in left field. Peter Bourjos is out of the lineup for a fourth straight game.

The rest of the lineup is standard. Odubel Herrera, who bats second, is 6 for 19 with five walks in his career against Scherzer (see game notes).

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Aaron Altherr, RF
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P