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Jason Kelce has one individual goal, and it’s a simple one and a challenging one and an admirable one.
“I think I can be the top center in the league,” Kelce said. “I really do.”
Kelce, who missed most of last year with a severe knee injury, isn’t just trying to be a productive center this year. He’s not just seeking to get back to his rookie form of 2011. He doesn’t merely want to be a Pro Bowler or an All-Pro.
He wants to leave Mike Pouncey, Chris Myers, Max Unger and Jonathan Goodwin in the dust.
He wants to be the best.
“I’m very confident in my abilities, but at the end of the day, I still have to go out there and put the pads on and play at a high level every single day,” Kelce said. “I’m looking forward to being able to prove that I’m one of the best centers in the league.”
Kelce spoke Wednesday afternoon after two days of Eagles training practices that featured mostly rookies.
Kelce and James Casey were both allowed to participate since they’re coming off injuries. For Kelce, this was a big step following 10 months of rehab. Kelce tore his right ACL during a Week 2 win over the Ravens last year, which means he’s played exactly one full game of football in the last 19 months.
That doesn’t stop him from aiming high.
Asked what it will take for him to achieve his lofty goal -- to be the premier center in the NFL -- and when he plans to get there, the often jovial Kelce is stone faced and serious.
“Those are both questions that I wish I had answers to,” he said. “I think the answer will be this year. That’s what I’m aiming for.”
As a rookie in 2011, Kelce unseated steady incumbent Jamaal Jackson to become the Eagles’ opening-day starter at center.
Kelce was the latest in a series of undrafted or late-round picks to man the center spot for Andy Reid -- Bubba Miller, Hank Fraley, Nick Cole and Jackson were undrafted and Kelce was a sixth-round pick.
He was the first rookie to start 10 or more games at center for the Eagles since Matt Darwin in 1986, and he played at a consistently high level.
“I think I played very well, for the position I was put in,” Kelce said. “One of the things I’ve always done a good job of is -- what I’ve tried to explain to these guys as rookies and what I’ve been trying to explain to Danny (Watkins) for a long time -- is it doesn’t do yourself any good to over-think things and slow yourself down.
“The biggest thing about being successful is going with it and just going all out. Because you can’t think too much. It doesn’t do us any good with somebody just standing there not doing anything. You’ve got to go, and you’ve got to go hard, and that’s one thing I’ve always done well at.
“And if you look at my rookie year, from the first game I stepped on the field to the last, there was a drastic improvement each and every week.
“There were two games in particular that I think I played poorly in -- the first Dallas game and Buffalo. The two games if I had back, I’d change some plays. In particular, Buffalo. But they were both in the first half of the season, and I feel like I settled down the second half of the season.”
Kelce is in the middle of what projects to be a very sound offensive line, with Jason Peters returning from Achilles surgery at left tackle, Pro Bowl alternate Evan Mathis at left guard, Todd Herremans back to his comfort zone at right guard and rookie first-round pick Lane Johnson at right tackle.
A far cry from the group that finished last year -- King Dunlap, a hobbled Mathis, Dallas Reynolds, Jake Scott and Dennis Kelly.
Kelce said his knee feels great -- “To tell you the truth, I haven’t even noticed it out here so far” -- and he doesn’t expect to be limited in any way once camp begins in earnest.
“Obviously, I still need to put pads on and see how it feels hitting people,” he said. “But it’s felt absolutely great the last two days.”
On Friday, the O-line will be together for new head coach Chip Kelly’s first full-team training camp practice, and on Sunday at the Linc, the Eagles will be in full pads for the first time this summer.
All part of the process that Kelce hopes will help him become the NFL’s best center.
“I think any good player and any player that’s starting on this team, they’re always trying to be the best,” he said. “I don’t know what else you’d be in it for.”
The last Eagles center to make a Pro Bowl? Hall of Famer Jim Ringo in 1967. That’s almost half a century ago.
“Every single day I step on this field, I’m trying to improve and trying to become the best center that I can be, and hopefully the best center I can be will be the best center in the NFL,” Kelce said.
“My goal’s always to be the best. My goal is always to be the best as an individual, to be the best as a unit, to be the best as a team. That’s the way I go about my business, and hopefully the way everyone here will.”