Athleticism is key along Eagles' offensive line


Athleticism is key along Eagles' offensive line

Chip Kelly likes big athletes, and that preference also applies to his offensive line.

The Eagles' offensive linemen are not only big but also athletic.

“A lot of people are a little apprehensive about that,” second-year offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said on Monday at the NovaCare Complex, “about having the big offensive linemen and what type of training you have to do leading up to the season.

“Jason Kelce is a former linebacker. Jason Peters is a former tight end. Lane Johnson is a former tight end. These are big skilled players. We’re surrounding ourselves with those types of players to be in this type of a system.”

Last year, the Eagles’ offensive line blew up enough room for the Eagles to rush for 2,566 yards, which led the league, and 19 touchdowns, which was second. It also helped LeSean McCoy pile up a career-high 1,607 yards on the ground and notch his first NFL rushing title.

Stoutland was quick to heap praise upon Kelce, calling the fourth-year center the “conductor of the band.” He also added that he constantly gets calls from current and former NFL coaches raving about how impressive the 2011 sixth-round pick is.

“I use a phrase sometimes that maybe is not politically correct: Many times those big, giant offensive linemen out there in space look like cows on ice,” Stoutland said. “They can’t change direction. They can’t stop on a dime. Jason Kelce is the total opposite of that.”

Kelce walked onto the Cincinnati Bearcats as a linebacker, after having played the position throughout high school in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He made the transition to the offensive line as a sophomore in college.

“Sometimes I think when that happens, when you play on the other side of the ball, you understand how defensive schemes are set and built because your mind has been geared that way for all those years,” Stoutland said.

“I think that we’re teaching not only our players the installation of the day or the protection of the day, but we’re always constantly teaching defensive schemes, things to look for and that kind of stuff. I think it’s very helpful to the player to learn his responsibility.”

All-Pro tackle Jason Peters has not slipped past the watchful eye of Stoutland either. After missing all of 2012 with an Achilles injury, Peters came back and started all 16 games in 2013 and earned his sixth Pro Bowl selection.

“From my standpoint, you would not have even known that he was injured,” Stoutland said. “He never missed any training sessions, he was always in the training room taking care of himself. I never questioned once that he could become an All-Pro player again.

“I’ve only been around him for one year now, and for him to totally grasp the concepts that we’re teaching and I’m teaching, we’re working really well together. I think for as good as he was this past year -- and you can throw age and all that stuff out the window, I really believe that -- this guy is an incredible athlete.”

Report: Eagles make inquiry about Bears WR Alshon Jeffery

Report: Eagles make inquiry about Bears WR Alshon Jeffery

The Eagles could be looking for a bigger name outside.

In need of a deep threat — and reportedly in talks about a trade for 49ers wideout Torrey Smith — the Eagles are interested in Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and attempting to make a move for the 2013 Pro Bowler, according to a report Tuesday night by Benjamin Allbright of Mile High Sports Radio.

We followed up with Allbright, who clarified the Eagles simply made an inquiry.

Jeffery, much more of a do-it-all, dynamic wide receiver than the one-dimensional Smith, is 26 years old and can become a free agent at season's end. He'll warrant good money, but would make the Eagles better in more ways than one compared to Smith.

The 6-foot-3, 218-pounder put up 89 catches for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, followed by 85 catches, 1,133 yards receiving and 10 scores in 2014.

This season, he has 520 yards receiving and has yet to find the end zone playing for the quarterback-challenged Bears, who are 1-6 and more than likely thinking about next season.

Doug Pederson not afraid to get aggressive with play-calling

Doug Pederson not afraid to get aggressive with play-calling

Talk to Doug Pederson and he comes across … what’s a nice way to put it … dry?

Very nice guy. Very friendly. Very down to earth. But not the most dynamic personality in public.

Which is why his personality on gameday has been so surprising.

Pederson is a risk-taker as a play-caller. Aggressive and fearless.

Whether it’s going for it on fourth down with the lead, going for two after a successful PAT or throwing deep in a situation that doesn’t necessarily call for it, Pederson has proven to be the proverbial riverboat gambler that Chip Kelly was expected to be but never became.

“My personality is probably a little more conservative by nature, I think,” Pederson said Monday. “You'd probably agree with that.”

Pederson got a laugh with that comment because his public persona is exactly the opposite of his gameday demeanor.

It only took one day before we all got a taste of Pederson’s fearlessness.

In the season opener against the Browns, with the Eagles clinging to a 15-10 lead and a rookie quarterback making his first NFL appearance and a 4th-and-4 at the Browns’ 40-yard line, he kept the offense on the field.

Carson Wentz responded by connecting with Zach Ertz on a five-yard gain to move the chains, and one play later, the Eagles took command on Wentz’s 35-yard TD pass to Nelson Agholor.

Six weeks in, the Eagles are 5 for 5 on fourth down. Only the Falcons have converted more fourth downs in the NFL this year, and they’re 6 for 10.

In the win over the Bears, the Eagles were 3 for 3 on fourth down, their best fourth-down conversion day in nine years.

This is the first time in 14 years the Eagles have converted five or more fourth downs through six games.

According to Pro Football Reference, the Eagles are one of only seven teams in NFL history to attempt five or more fourth-down plays through six games and still be at 100 percent. The Lions are also 5 for 5 this year.

Pederson said analytics are a big part of his decision-making process, but he also trusts his instincts.

“I think it's both,” Pederson said. “But I trust our guys and I trust our offensive line and I think it sends a great message to the rest of the team, to the defense and special teams, that, ‘Hey, if we can convert this and stay on the field,’ it sends a good message.

“And on the other side of that, if you do convert, [it’s about] the message you send to the other team and the fact that you're going to stay aggressive.”

The Eagles are 29th-best in the NFL on third down at just 34 percent. But they’re one of only three teams that’s at 100 percent on fourth down.

“It's kind of a crazy deal when you're not great on third down, but you can be 5 for 5 on fourth down and convert them,” Pederson said. “It's a weird deal. But credit to the guys for the execution.

“I'm going to continue to look at it. I don't ever want to be in a position that I'm going to jeopardize the team at the time [by being too aggressive]. Looking at the five fourth-down decisions this year, I don’t think they put us in any harm at that time.”

Wentz is 3 for 3 for 21 yards on fourth down, with the four-yard completion to Ertz, a seven-yard first down to Jordan Matthews in the Bears game and a nine-yarder to Dorial Green-Beckham, also in the win in Chicago.

He also rushed six yards for a first down on a 4th-and-2 Sunday in the win over the Vikings. The Eagles’ other fourth-down conversion this year was Ryan Mathews’ one-yard TD on a 4th-and-goal against Chicago.

Pederson said as an assistant coach under Andy Reid, he always found himself asking himself whether he would be conservative or aggressive in crucial situations.

We’re all learning the answer now.

“Yeah, you definitely put yourself in those situations, as a coordinator and a position coach,” he said. “Putting yourself in those spots, it's a lot easier when you're not making the decision obviously to go, ‘Oh, yeah, I would have not gone for it there or not gone for it there.’

“Now, being in this position, it's my tail on the line if we don't convert.”