Athleticism is key along Eagles' offensive line

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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.”

Eagles Mailbag: Bennie Logan, top WRs in draft, Jeremy Maclin return?

Eagles Mailbag: Bennie Logan, top WRs in draft, Jeremy Maclin return?

There hasn't been much Eagles talk recently. The last few weeks have been pretty dead. 

That's about to change soon enough. Next week, the football world will take over Indianapolis for the combine and just after that, free agency will begin on March 9. After that, the draft isn't too far away. 

So let's jump into your mailbag questions: 

Yeah, I think there's a real chance Bennie Logan isn't an Eagle next year. Howie Roseman has been pretty consistent in saying he wants Logan to return, but it's fair to wonder about the price. Logan has now proven that he can play in a 4-3 or a 3-4 scheme, so there will be plenty of teams interested. 

If the Eagles lose Logan, their defense will take a big hit. There's not really a way around that. He's a good player and has been an important part of the line. But with a ton of money devoted to the defensive line over the next few years -- even assuming Connor Barwin isn't back -- will the Eagles pay another? I'm not so sure. 

And I agree that Logan was really good against the run last year. But I think his real value is in being great against the run while also being able to generate some pass rush. I think Beau Allen can be a decent run-stuffer, but he's clearly not the same player as Logan. 

I can't give a real answer here. Sorry. While I don't wholeheartedly agree with the best player available notion, the Eagles also can't prioritize one need over the other in this scenario. There will be either 13 or 14 picks before the Eagles are on the board. 

Really, it's going to depend on which players are left. Are Mike Williams and Corey Davis on the board? How about the top corners? There's a lot of them. If the player the Eagles really want at one of those positions is off the board, they could look elsewhere. And it's not automatic they'll take a receiver or a cornerback. What if they opt for an edge rusher? 

But getting back to corner vs. receiver, there are a couple thoughts: 

1. They'll pick a corner because receivers are far from a sure thing. Roseman made it a point to talk about how the 2014 draft changed expectations for rookie receivers. And the Eagles haven't had much luck recently drafting receivers in the first round. And Roseman has also said that while it might make sense to grab a first-round corner in the second round because of depth, there's often a run at positions where a draft is strong. It would be better to just get the best one. 

2. On the flip side of that, maybe they'll pick a receiver with the idea that at least one really good corner will be on the board in the second round. That would maximize value, especially if they get the receiver they want in the first round. 

That's a long way to say: I don't think it'll be about position as much as it will be about the specific player at 14 or 15. 

This is a tough one. I really think the margin separating these two is so close that the combine could flip them for me. But for now, I'm going with Mike Williams. 

Clemson listed him at 6-3, 225 and I think he's going to come close to that at the combine. And he might not have Corey Davis' speed or quick twitch, but he makes up for it. I really want to see how he performs at the combine; I expect it to confirm my belief that he's the top receiver in the draft. Davis will reportedly not run at the combine because of an ankle injury. 

It's possible a team like the Eagles could fall in love with Davis' deep threat ability. That's clearly what they value right now. But ultimately, I think Williams is the top guy. 

I don't think Ryan Mathews will be back next season. He's 29, coming off a serious neck injury and is way too expensive. The Eagles can save $4 million by cutting him. I expect that to happen and for the Eagles to try to find some younger, healthier talent. 

Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy! Let's get the band back together! 

I understand why the Maclin questions are rolling in. An ESPN column recently suggested that the Chiefs could cut the former Eagle. Maclin is familiar with the Eagles' offense and Doug Pederson, which means the move would make some sense. 

But from a football standpoint, Jackson would give the Eagles what they need more than Maclin. Over the last couple years, Maclin has really been utilized in the slot, which happens to be where the Eagles' only decent receiver plays. Sure, Pederson will move around his receivers, but there are probably better fits out there for the Eagles than Maclin. If he does become a free agent, though, it's at least worth inquiring. 

Former Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans joins 49ers coaching staff

Former Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans joins 49ers coaching staff

About a year ago, while in Indianapolis for the combine, the Eagles cut veteran linebacker DeMeco Ryans. 

Ryans has finally found his next job ... as a coach. 

The 32-year-old former linebacker has been named a defensive quality control coach on Kyle Shanahan's staff in San Francisco. Shanahan was on the Texans' staff for the first four years of Ryans' pro career. Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was also on that Houston staff. 

After the Eagles cut him last Feb. 24, Ryans was out of the league in 2016 after 10 NFL seasons. He played the first six years of his career in Houston, where he was a two-time Pro Bowler, before joining the Eagles through a trade in 2012. 

While the Eagles cut Ryans after the 2015 season to save $3.5 million in cap space, they made a point to go out of their way to praise him on his way out. He was very well-thought of in the locker room and throughout the building. 

While Ryans played one season under Andy Reid, he quickly became a favorite of Chip Kelly, who frequently called Ryans the "Mufasa" of the Eagles' defense. 

Kelly didn't forget about Ryans when he went to San Francisco to coach the 49ers for the 2016 season. In fact, in Kelly's questionnaire in the NFL's 2016 information guide, Kelly listed Ryans as a player who'd make a great head coach.