Jason Peters played his first regular-season game in over 18 months in the Eagles' season-opening win on Monday night. (AP)
There’s a running joke among offensive linemen who were once coached by Jeff Stoutland.
Stoutland, hired in January to coach Chip Kelly’s offensive line, frequently used cut-ups of Jason Peters as instructional videos for the linemen he coached.
So when he accepted Kelly’s offer to coach Eagles linemen, along came the wisecracks and one-liners.
“They actually would text me or call me or kid with me about, ‘Hey, what are you gonna do, show Jason Peters some Jason Peters films?'” Stoutland said.
Stoutland laughed as he recalled his many stops across the countryside, coaching stints at Michigan State, Miami and Alabama. At every juncture, his players logged plenty of minutes studying the moves and techniques of the Eagles’ All-Pro tackle.
Of course, some things Peters does just can’t be replicated by even the best-coached linemen in the game, at any level. Even Stoutland conceded that.
“He’s the real deal,” Stoutland said. “Here’s why, to me, he’s different than a lot of people. Number one, he plays with a low profile. His hips are low. For a guy his size to play with his hips as low as he does and be able to move his feet so fast.
“And when he brings his hands to you, he is violent with his hands. Absolutely violent. Defensive people take a lot of pride in talking about how violent they are with their hands. Well, this player is very violent with his hands. And when you’re violent with your hands you have a tendency to take yourself out of balance. He’s got an unbelievable sense of balance and body control, so he can do that kind of thing. That’s what makes him a special player.”
Stoutland later finished the interview by expressing this sentiment: “I’m just so happy to be able to be here and coach him.”
Nobody, not even Stoutland, could have predicted how Peters would perform Monday night in his first game in more than 18 months and after two surgeries on a ruptured Achilles that raised questions about the five-time Pro Bowler’s ability to still be elite.
Peters had rehabbed and came back strong, promising in April that he’d be back at 100 percent and be the guy once considered the most physically gifted lineman in the game, but he hadn’t yet faced a pass rush for 60 minutes and hadn’t anchored an offensive line that blocked 53 times in one half.
Peters, admittedly, had his own curiosities going into the game.
“Bunch of plays down the field, you going to be able to last?” he said. “It’s all running through your head.”
By halftime, he knew. He jogged back onto the field, feeling spry and energetic.
“I was sitting there, ran back on the field in the third quarter and it was like, ‘Man, I feel good,’" Peters said. “I just kept going after that.”
Kelly wasn’t bashful about coaxing max production from his All-Pro left tackle. Along with drawing the assignment of shielding Mike Vick from Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo for 60 minutes, Peters moved around a few times in creative formations intended to catch the defense off balance. On one snap, Peters, a former college tight end, split wide.
After the game, he was one of the few offensive linemen who said he didn’t feel tired. The Eagles had slowed their offense down in the second half, but still ran 77 total plays, tied for third-most after Week 1, and churned out 443 yards, sixth-most in the league.
Peters’ dominance over Orakpo, who couldn’t manage a sack, and LeSean McCoy’s 184 rushing yards validated the 10-year veteran’s April decree that he’d come back as strong and imposing as he was before the two surgeries.
“I mean, if I knew I couldn’t do a certain drill or wasn’t gonna be the same, I’d man up and admit it,” Peters said. “But me doing all my drills and stuff in the offseason, during the OTAs, I just felt like I was the same. I’m the same guy. Never felt the Achilles, not one time. So I’ve just been going ever since.”
The film had already told Stoutland that he was inheriting one of the sport’s all-time greats when he arrived in Philadelphia to restore order to an offensive line besieged by injury in 2012. Right guard Todd Herremans and center Jason Kelce were also coming off season-ending surgeries and rookie right tackle Lane Johnson, the fourth overall pick in the draft, needed to be coached up in about four months to be ready for the opener.
Peters, who had torn his Achilles last March and then re-tore the repaired tendon after falling off a medical scooter, didn’t need Stoutland’s round-the-clock supervision. Stoutland had noticed that Peters put in plenty of extra time in the weight room and on the fields before and after practice, and during the offseason program.
A team public relations staffer recalled a time in the offseason when he arrived at the NovaCare Complex at 7:30 a.m. and ran into Peters, who had just finished a workout.
“There’s a lot of things that people don’t know about Jason,” Stoutland said. “He’s a very private person. He’s not the kind of person that likes everybody to know his business, so they don’t really know what he puts into it. If you ever knew the amount of effort he puts into training himself off the limits of this facility … this guy is a true professional. A lot of people don’t know about that.”
Even though Peters could have played at the end of last season, Kelly and the new regime eased up on their cornerstone lineman at the spring camps. Until Peters convinced them to dial it up.
“We didn’t want him to push too fast,” Stoutland said. “And then every day he felt more and more ready to go. Then he’d go a little further and push a little bit harder. I don’t even know what day it was, but there was a day in there where I could just see him say, ‘Enough is enough, it’s time to roll.’ He’s been that way ever since.”