Hearing from Eagles coach Chip Kelly that Allen Barbre would likely start at right tackle for the first four games of the season wasn’t much of a surprise.
Not only did Barbre play well last year as the team’s top reserve, but he also signed a three-year deal this offseason that reflected the team’s interest in keeping him around.
Hearing Kelly say Barbre would have pushed for a starting job this training camp even if Lane Johnson hadn’t been saddled with a PED suspension (see story)?
That registered more than just a blip on the radar. Kelly said Barbre would have been “pushing all those other guys for playing time” regardless, which is either head-coach hyperbole or veiled insight into the team’s future plans for the seventh-year pro.
“We feel like he's a talented football player,” Kelly said Friday in his first training camp press conference. “When he's had an opportunity to perform, he did a great job. He did a great job, again, in the offseason program. That's why we wanted to have him back here."
Consider the first four games of the season as Barbre’s audition for a starting job. Earlier in his conference, Kelly cautioned that Johnson’s time away while serving suspension could jeopardize his starting status. Even if Johnson comes back in great shape, an impressive September from Barbre could impact right guard Todd Herremans’ security if Herremans showed any sign of slippage. Barbre has practiced and played both guard and tackle in his career.
The ball’s in Barbre’s court. The staff clearly thinks he can handle a short-term starting role and invested enough in Barbre this offseason to hint that Barbre is expected to be starting somewhere at some point, in which Barbre agreed.
“I guess there would be something wrong with you if you didn’t want to start,” he said. “I wouldn’t see any other option, really.”
Negotiations on the extension, which included a $600,000 signing bonus and base salaries of $1.25 million in 2015, ’16 and ’17, began before Johnson’s suspension came down.
What’s unknown is whether Barbre can be the same player as a full-time starter for a team with Super Bowl expectations, as he was off the bench for a team that snuck up on the NFC East and won the division in Kelly’s first season.
Barbre played only 86 offensive snaps last season after making the team as a street free-agent signing the prior offseason. He made his Eagles debut in the season opener against the Redskins when left tackle Jason Peters sustained a dislocated finger, playing just two snaps on a touchdown drive.
His breakout came against the Packers, when Peters left the game early, leaving Barbre to again replace the All Pro in Lambeau against Green Bay’s top-10 defense. Barbre played 51 snaps -- his most of the season -- in the 27-14 win.
Kelly referenced the game while praising Barbe, but Barbre -- in a way only an offensive lineman could -- dismissed the idea that one game defined his season with a grizzly shrug and terse response.
“I don’t really feel like that one game really helped me,” he said. “Every game I went in I tried to play well. That game, I played a lot and I played well.
In only one other game Barbre played more than nine snaps -- a blowout win against the Raiders. So the sample size of his starting work is still small.
But from the way Kelly phrased it, the Eagles have seen plenty.
“I've seen Allen since we've had him here. I think he's big, he's physical. He's a very, very strong‑handed guy,” Kelly said. “When he gets his hands on people, he can really move people. He's got a great understanding. He's got flexibility in terms of being the guard-tackle for us.
“When he gets some extended playing time, especially in the Green Bay game, when Jason was out, he did a really, really nice job at left tackle for us. The biggest thing is just him transitioning over [to the right side]. He had been more of a left guard, left tackle kind of guy. That's why we felt on Day 1 we need to get him reps starting at right tackle.”
The irony of Barbre replacing Johnson is Barbre once served a four-game PED suspension, which ultimately landed him out of football.
In 2012, after playing four games for Seattle the prior year, Barbre was suspended for the first four games. Seattle released him after the suspension instead of adding him to its roster. Shortly after, the Eagles started evaluating his game tape. The Eagles, who were decimated on the offensive line in 2012 and went 4-12, could have claimed Barbre off waivers but weren’t yet convinced. They didn’t sign him until after the season.
Now, he’s a potential starter and coming into his own.
Said Barbre: “I’m comfortable. I’m confident. I’m playing good."