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Kelly on the chance of being in first place in the NFC East
Todd Herremans has started 104 games in his career, second on the Eagles behind only Mike Vick. (USA Today Images)
It was strange, really. Hearing Chip Kelly on Wednesday acknowledge the steady improvement of his veteran right guard.
Of all the offensive linemen to play for the Eagles over the past 10 years, Todd Herremans has been one of the most reliable and consistent.
He isn’t a superstar, hasn’t made a single Pro Bowl, and won’t be honored at halftime of a home game a decade from now. But Herremans has played every position on the line except center, filled in for two Pro Bowl left tackles (Tra Thomas and Jason Peters), stabilized a fluid right tackle spot and started every game since 2006 when healthy.
Herremans looked spry and energetic in the preseason in his new home at right guard but struggled out of the gate in pass protection, especially three Thursdays ago against Kansas City.
Getting stampeded by guys named Tyson Jackson and Mike DeVito never seemed to happen to him before.
“I still think I’m still kind of adjusting to right guard a little bit,” Herremans admitted after a recent practice. “I think I made it a smaller adjustment in my head than it really was. I had kind of a little bit of an awakening [against Kansas City] and just kind of realized what I’ve got to do to get better.
“It’s not just like I could just hop in and be a solid right guard, you know, after right tackle for a couple of years and after playing the left side for however many [years]. I just got to get my technique down and get a bunch of repetition and drill work so it comes natural.”
By his own admission Herremans hadn’t played up to his own standard in any of the first three games, but he was most despondent after the Kansas City loss, a 26-16 defeat after the Eagles had totaled 67 points in their first two games.
Down 10 with 2:54 left to play, any glimmer of hope the Eagles had to stage a late rally after Mike Vick converted a third-and-long to Zach Ertz vanished when the refs whistled Herremans for holding.
Jackson, a first-round bust for most of his career, had swam past Herremans and would have planted Vick in the turf had he not been dragged down suddenly by the right guard.
“I think I was so down after that game because I really, really wanted to win. I do every game,” he said. “And we’re trying to make a comeback. I think we were down two touchdowns or something like that and then we completed like a 15-yard pass or something that gets called back because of a holding call by me. That kind of was hanging on me a little heavy and it was right at the end of the game, so it was still fresh on my mind when we got in the locker room.”
The Chiefs’ pass rush feasted off the right side of the Eagles’ offensive line, taking aim at Herremans and rookie right tackle Lane Johnson, who got beat several times and needed Herremans to help him recover. Rush linebacker Justin Houston picked up 4.5 of Kansas City’s six sacks, the most against the Eagles this year.
Herremans realized his technique needed fine-tuning, that playing his third position in four years and working under his fourth position coach in as many years had taken a toll.
The drills he does under new position coach Jeff Stoutland are different from the teachings of former offensive line coach Howard Mudd, which were different than the technique taught Herremans’ first line coach, Juan Castillo.
“I just thought, ‘When in my career was my pass pro the best?’ Well, when I was at left guard and Juan was coaching me as a left guard,” Herremans said. “So I started thinking about some of the drills that I would do with Juan and stuff and integrated them in with what Stout is teaching me, too. It’s just normal offensive line stuff. Sometimes, you just let it slip your mind.”
Herremans didn’t turn in an A-plus performance against Denver but Vick didn’t have Broncos being peeled off his back every other snap. And he’s still one of the team’s best run blockers.
“I know Todd played a lot better against Denver than he did in the Chiefs game,” Kelly said. “When you go through that game, I thought he played really well. Maybe his best game of the year was against the Broncos.”
When the Eagles moved Herremans back inside to accommodate Johnson, they knew there would be murky waters to navigate. One was playing an entirely new position, the other was playing his first NFL snaps.
“Everybody is surprised when you see someone of Todd’s caliber struggle a little bit. But … I think everybody kind of understood he had been playing tackle the last couple of years,” center Jason Kelce said.
“He hadn’t done guard in a while, so he needed some time to get back into the flow of things. Two weeks before he had played, especially against Kansas City, some pretty good interior guys and pretty good D-line and linebackers all around.
“He had been doing great things in the running game, so it’s just sometimes pass setting … which is technique, placement, things like that. Just being a half-step off, not getting your head up a little bit in your set, that can affect your whole game. It wasn’t like he was getting beat like a drum, like the dude is swimming him and he’s standing at the line.”
It’s fair to question if Herremans, who turns 31 in two weeks, is steeping into the downside of his career and if his body can withstand another full season's worth of battling in the trenches.
He missed the last eight games of last year after undergoing surgery on his foot and ankle stemming from an injury he sustained against New Orleans. He’s not the oldest offensive player on the roster, but nobody on the team has played more games as an Eagle. Only Vick, who has 107 career starts, has started more career games than Herremans, who has 104.
Sunday's game at the Meadowlands against the Giants should indicate whether Herremans' bounce back against Denver is a positive sign going forward.
Surprisingly, the Giants are tied with the NFL’s fewest sacks (four) but they still feature some of the league’s most respected front-seven personnel, including former Eagles tackles Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson and 327-pounder Linval Joseph.
Herremans doesn't see any correlation between his age and the tough start to this season.
When his time is up, he said, he'll know.
The time hasn't come yet.
“I don’t ever really think about that,” Herremans said. “I figure that I’m going to feel it before I actually think about it. I’ll feel it. But right now I feel like I could play at a really high level still. I just got to clean some things up.”