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There are preconceived notions about Chip Kelly’s offense. Some think it will be dynamic and innovative and fast-paced. Others believe the Eagles will be something else under Kelly: soft.
“The reason Chip brought me here, Chip likes physical football,” Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said on Thursday at the NovaCare Complex. “The perception of this type of offense is that it’s not physical. Even my former players, they would joke with me about it. This is no different than the stuff I was teaching at Alabama. Football is a game of angles. It’s all angles. I don’t care if you’re run blocking or pass setting. You’ve got to calculate your angle based on what’s in front of you, and then you’ve got to hit it at 100 mph.”
Last season’s offensive line didn’t calculate its angles well, then, and it certainly didn’t hit what was in front of it with the kind of force Stoutland advocates. Under then-offensive line coach Howard Mudd, the Eagles surrendered 48 sacks. Only the Cardinals, Packers, Jaguars and Chargers were worse.
In fairness, the Eagles' offensive line resembled a triage unit a year ago. Of the expected starters, only guard Evan Mathis made it through the entire season. Five-time Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles (twice) and didn’t play in a single game. Jason Kelce tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in mid-September and was lost for the remainder of the season. Danny Watkins was felled by a recurring ankle injury (as well as his own poor performances) and didn’t start a game after Week 7. And in November, Todd Herremans broke a bone in his right foot and missed the rest of the year.
All of those players are already back on the practice field. According to Stoutland, Kelce is running full speed but there are certain things he “can’t do or we won’t let him do” just yet.
“For all these players, this is all brand new,” Stoutland said. “This is a whole new system. The terminology is different. It takes a minute for you just to digest what’s being taught in the meeting room and then take it out onto the field. I’ve seen a progressive improvement each and every day.”
While the terminology is different for the entire offensive line, the position is also relatively new for first-round pick Lane Johnson. After playing several other positions in high school and college (from quarterback to tight end to defensive line), Johnson moved to offensive line for his last two seasons at Oklahoma.
“Lane, you know, there are still some things, a lot of things, we need to work on,” Stoutland said. “There are a lot of little technical things -- detail, technique things that have to be corrected.
“From a skill set standpoint, he’s really good. He’s long. His arms are long. He’s explosive. He’s everything that we thought he would be. Now, the things that we knew about even coming into the draft, we’ve got to get him into some really good habits right now. That’s just everyday stuff -- over and over and over so it becomes a good habit.”
The same could be said for Watkins, who hasn’t demonstrated good habits since being taken with the 23rd overall pick in the draft two years ago. Watkins recently said that he prefers Stoutland’s approach to what the Eagles implemented under Mudd. Stoutland, meanwhile, said Watkins has “put a lot of time into this thing on his own, outside of what we’re doing. He’s put a lot of time into trying to learn the system.”
While learning a new system is important for everyone from Watkins to Peters, Stoutland said the most important thing is having the entire line healthy and ready to play when the season begins. That the unit is almost entirely whole right now is something Stoutland called “exciting and encouraging.”
“Honestly, you wouldn’t know Jason Peters had an injury,” Stoutland said. “You wouldn’t know that. Herremans, you wouldn’t know that. These guys have done an unbelievable job rehabbing and taking care of themselves. They’re out there running around and it’s like nothing ever happened.”
Then he knocked on the table a few times.