Matt Tobin is one of 14 offensive linemen fighting for 10 or 11 spots on the Eagles' 53-man roster. (AP)
It doesn’t happen very often, a rookie offensive lineman who goes undrafted but impresses the Eagles at their training camp enough to make the team.
Austin Howard did in 2010. Nick Cole did in 2006. Looks like Matt Tobin could very easily follow in those footsteps.
Tobin, a rookie free agent from Iowa who mainly played guard in college, moved to tackle after the Eagles signed him and gradually worked his way up the depth chart to the second team. He started at left tackle Thursday night against the Jets, while starters rested.
A rookie free agent manning the most important position on the second-team offensive line is indicative of the progress he’s made throughout camp and increased the odds of him being on the 53-man roster after Saturday’s 6 p.m. cutdown deadline (see roster predictions).
“You’re looking for versatility,” head coach Chip Kelly said after the preseason finale against the Jets. “We know he can play guard. With that position, especially when you’re talking backup linemen, you’ve got to be able to play a couple of spots, and we felt like he could come in and compete. I thought he’s a kid that’s had a really good camp and done a really good job.”
Tobin started his last 22 games at Iowa, finishing his last four games at left tackle after an injury to the starter moved him over from left guard. Iowa has a reputation for churning out NFL-ready offensive linemen who can play multiple positions, so the request from offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland to move outside didn’t faze Tobin.
“I think most O-linemen who come out of Iowa are prepared physically and technique-wise," Tobin said, crediting head coach Kirk Ferentz. “He kind of coaches us as if we were NFL guys.”
It took a few weeks of spring camp practices to feel fully adjusted, but Tobin quickly made an impression.
“For a little bit there I was oversetting all the time ... but I got a lot little more comfortable with it,” he said. “Couple weeks into it, I would say. First couple of weeks of OTAs I was all over the place. It had been a while since I put pads on. We didn’t make a bowl game last year at Iowa, so it had been a little while and I had been rusty.”
Tobin can’t be considered an absolute lock to make the team, but he’s made it awfully tough on the coaches to keep him off and then attempt to re-sign him to the practice squad. Backup tackle Dennis Kelly’s recovery from back surgery is expected to extend into the regular season, so the Eagles are facing some depth issues on the line.
Allen Barbre, another surprise newcomer who can play both guard and tackle, would be first off the bench. Todd Herremans could also move outside from guard and be replaced by an interior lineman. The Eagles also signed rookie free agent Michael Bamiro, a physically superior athlete who’s extremely raw.
Right now, Tobin is way ahead of Bamiro in terms of being NFL-ready.
“He’s done a very good job,” said Julian Vandervelde, a former Iowa teammate of Tobin who likely wrapped up the Eagles’ backup center job behind Jason Kelce. “His progression at tackle has really been outstanding.
“I know he played some tackle at Iowa but he was primarily a guard and I think coming in here and putting the body of work he has on tape ... to see his growth and improvement since Day 1, it’s been swift growth and swift improvement.”
Tobin, who’s as low key as it gets, had to walk on at Iowa, so he’s accustomed to fighting for every opportunity. He won’t be one of those guys biting their fingernails and pacing around his hotel room until the last cut is made.
“Just hang in the hotel. I’m not big into [worrying],” he said. “I’ll just sit there and wait and see what happens. It’s kind of the same type to be a walk-on at Iowa and being a free agent here.
“I’ll be thinking about it, but it’s their decision now. I’ve done what I can do.”
Has he done enough?
“I could have played better [against the Jets], but overall I showed what I can do,” he said. “We’ll see if they like it or not.”