Athleticism is key along Eagles' offensive line

uspresswire-jason-kelce-eagles-123113.jpg

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.”

Doug Pederson indicates Lane Johnson will start at RT when he returns

Doug Pederson indicates Lane Johnson will start at RT when he returns

Talk about too, little too late.
 
Lane Johnson is due back in two weeks, and Eagles head coach Doug Pederson on Wednesday for the first time seemed to indicate that he’s leaning toward getting Johnson back at right tackle as soon as he returns.
 
Johnson, the Eagles’ best offensive lineman the first month of the season, was suspended by the NFL for 10 games for a second positive test for a banned substance. By the time his appeal was heard and rejected, it was after the Eagles’ loss to the Lions.
 
Johnson hasn’t played since.

The Eagles face the Redskins at the Linc and Ravens in Baltimore the next two Sundays. Johnson is eligible to return to the NovaCare Complex the day after the Ravens' game, which would be Monday, Dec. 19.
 
The Eagles then face the Giants three days later on a Thursday night at the Linc and finish the season on Jan. 1 at home against the Cowboys in a game that will likely have no meaning for either team.
 
Previously, when asked about Johnson, Pederson was non-commital about playing him. But on Wednesday, he seemed to indicate he would move him back to right tackle for the Giants' game.
 
“Listen, he was a big part of our success early in the season,” Pederson said. “So I wouldn’t hesitate to put him back out there.”
 
The Eagles, 5-7 after a 3-0 start, are on the brink of playoff elimination and could well be eliminated by the time Johnson returns.
 
Rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai started the first six games after Johnson’s suspension before getting hurt. Left guard Allen Barbre started the last two, with Stefen Wisniewski moving into left guard.
 
Even though Pederson indicated Johnson would return to right tackle as soon as he gets back, he did qualify the statement.
 
“He comes back on a short week, too, against the Giants, in a couple weeks,” he said. “Got to see where Big V is at coming off an injury and see where that’s at. 
 
“We’re beginning the conversations right now. When he does return, we’ll have to see. We still have some games. Have to get through these two games.”         
 
Johnson, the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, started 44 of a possible 48 games his first three seasons, missing only four in 2014 during his first NFL suspension.
 
After the Lions game, he said he hoped the Eagles had meaningful games remaining when he got back.
 
The Eagles are 3-1 this year with Johnson and 2-6 without him. In his four NFL seasons, the Eagles are 27-22 when he plays.
 
“Stay in shape and hopefully the team is good enough to stay in playoff contention,” he said in the visiting locker room at Ford Field back on Oct. 9. 
 
“Come back and I’ll be fresh and we can make a run for it. That’s the best-case scenario. We’ll see what happens.”

Eagles Injury Update: Eagles get top running back, receiver back at practice

Eagles Injury Update: Eagles get top running back, receiver back at practice

The Eagles will get a boost Wednesday as they begin to prepare for Washington and a chance to snap a three-game losing streak. 

Their top running back and receiver – Ryan Mathews (knee) and Jordan Matthews (ankle) – will both practice. 

Mathews, who suffered an MCL sprain against Seattle, has missed the last two weeks. Matthews, who hurt his ankle against the Packers, missed the Bengals' game. It was the first game he had ever missed in his collegiate and NFL career. 

“He’s good to play,” head coach Doug Pederson said about Mathews. “We’ll find out today, but he’s cleared and ready to go.”

In the two weeks without Mathews in the lineup, the Eagles had their two worst rushing performances of the season: 81 yards against the Packers and 53 against the Bengals. 

Obviously, getting behind in those games skewed those numbers plenty. But it should still be a boost to get Mathews back. 

“We fell behind so it gets us out of that mode a little bit,” Pederson said. “But I like where we’re at. I do lean on that offensive line quit a bit. I do talk to them during the week and say hey this might be the week that we need to rush the ball 30-35 times and they’re up for the challenge, obviously. 

“With the addition of Ryan coming back, it gives us depth and a bigger [running back] back there and hopefully we can get back to running the ball like we did a few weeks ago.” 

With Matthews out against Cincinnati, undrafted rookie Paul Turner made the most of his opportunity. He caught six passes for 80 yards, while playing in the slot. 

Pederson said that even with Matthews’ returning, the Eagles will still try to find ways to keep Turner involved. 

The team will practice indoors Wednesday because the fields at the NovaCare Complex are too saturated thanks to Tuesday's constant rain.