Eagles' offensive line stands pat ... for now

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Eagles' offensive line stands pat ... for now

April 17, 2013, 9:00 am
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Todd Herremans, left, and Danny Watkins, right, could be two of Chip Kelly's starting linemen this season. (USA Today Images/AP)

It could all change next Thursday night, April 25, after the first round of the draft, or next month during the second Eagles minicamp, or at training camp or during the season.

But as of this moment, after one Chip Kelly practice, Danny Watkins is still working at guard and competing to start there, and Todd Herremans remains at tackle and planning to stay there.

At least for the moment.

One day after general manager Howie Roseman sent mixed signals regarding Watkins’ future, Kelly said the third-year lineman took some of his reps with the first-team offense as the Eagles practiced for the first time under their new head coach.

But don’t invest too much thought into depth charts and placements. Kelly and his coaches jumbled up personnel to create competition at every position, giving players a clean slate under a new regime and giving the staff an unbiased, live look at their roster.

“It's, ‘How many reps can we get?’ I don't care if you were in first-team reps, second-team reps, third-team reps,” Kelly said, noting that he has only 15 offensive linemen, not enough to compose three different teams. “We don't grade you any differently. So I think Danny got first reps, second reps, and [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] is just rolling them.

“Our whole mantra right now is, ‘I don't care who is in with the ones, who is in with the twos -- we've just got to make sure we've got 11.’ So let's roll, get some reps, and get some film we can teach off of.

“That whole concept of who ran with the ones, who didn't run with the ones, I don't think they put a thing over their bed and say, ‘I ran with the ones today.’ That really doesn't matter. It's, ‘When I was in there, did I know what I was doing? Did I understand my assignment? Did I use the proper technique and did I execute?’ But position‑wise, Danny was on the right side at guard and Todd was at tackle.”

Kelly inherits a shaky, aging but healing offensive line. Its bookend tackles and left guard are all north of 30 years old, and its center, Jason Kelce, is still unable to practice fully as he comes back from the knee surgery he underwent last season after tearing ligaments.

The line also lacks an automatic right guard, the position Watkins has failed to cement in each of his first years after being drafted 23rd overall in 2011. Watkins, who was supposed to fill the line’s lone void from Day One, struggled with his confidence under abrasive former offensive line coach Howard Mudd. He didn’t crack the starting lineup until Week 5 of his rookie year, then was yanked from the starting spot six games into last season after suffering an ankle injury that former coach Andy Reid used as an excuse to keep Watkins out of the starting spot for the rest of the season.

On Monday, in a roundtable draft discussion with reporters, Roseman said the coaches were encouraged by Watkins’ attitude this offseason and the proverbial chip on the lineman’s shoulder.

But earlier in the conversation, when asked about the line’s overall age, Roseman mentioned the youth at that position, singling out reserve guard/tackle Nate Menkin and second-year tackle Dennis Kelly. Curiously, Roseman didn’t mention Watkins in his response.

Not until asked specifically about Watkins did Roseman discuss the 28-year-old former Canadian firefighter.

“We’re really encouraged by Danny,” Roseman then said. “He’s really energized, literally, to come in and get somewhat of a fresh start. That’s how he looks at it. He’s been here in the offseason program.

“In fact, he got married on a Saturday because when you have a veteran coach you don’t start your offseason program until [Monday]. So he had set his wedding date. He drove in from Texas. He drove by himself. Didn’t take the honeymoon. Came to be here on time for the first day of the offseason programs. He's got a great opportunity here to get a fresh start and we told him that. Just go out and focus on your job. Don’t worry about anything that happened in the past.”

Easy to say this week, before the Eagles have made their draft selections. But with the No. 4 overall pick, the Eagles are frequently linked with Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher and Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, who are each considered top-five picks.

If the Eagles were to draft another tackle in the first two rounds, it stands to reason that Herremans would return to guard, where the nine-year veteran played five straight seasons from 2006 to 2010.

Menkin’s presence adds to the guessing game. He didn’t play a single down last year as a rookie but was kept on the 53-man roster all season despite so many injuries that street free-agent signing Jake Scott wound up manning the right guard position even after spending the first 10 weeks unemployed.

Clearly, the front office thought highly enough of the 6-foot-5, 300-pound former Division III All-American from Mary Hardin-Baylor to keep him around based solely on potential.

“He’s a versatile guy and we’ll see as we go forward here and see him out there,” Roseman said, refusing to pin Menkin at guard or tackle. “Get the coaches a chance to get their hands on him a little bit and see where he fits best.”

The left side of Kelly’s line seems much more stable, with guard Evan Mathis coming off an even better season than his breakout 2011 and with All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters back after missing all of 2012 to recover from an Achilles tendon that he tore twice in an eight-week span.

“Yeah, Jason looked like what I had hoped he was going to look like,” Kelly said. “First off, he's a very big human being that moves extremely well. But he participated through the full practice. So I think one of those deals when it's probably a good sign when you never looked over and said, 'Jeez, he doesn't look like he's himself right now.’

“He was moving around and looked really at home at left tackle. So when you have someone that's got that type of talent at that type of size, it's encouraging to see him get through that practice.”

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