Allen Barbre

Trades of veteran offensive linemen signal Eagles' confidence in depth at position

Trades of veteran offensive linemen signal Eagles' confidence in depth at position

Clearly, the Eagles feel good about their offensive line depth, trading away two experienced veterans since training camp opened in July. It also sounds like the latest deal to send Matt Tobin to the Seahawks had a lot to do with the organization’s faith in one player in particular.

Tobin made 21 starts over four seasons with the Eagles and was the first player off the bench at offensive tackle when the 2016 campaign began. Yet, after Lane Johnson was suspended for 10 games, it was Halapoulivaati Vaitai who took over at right tackle, and the player known as “Big V” stuck until an MCL sprain knocked him out of the lineup.

Vaitai’s performance in seven games as a rookie apparently was enough to put the Eagles at ease when Seattle came calling about Tobin.

“I'm really comfortable, and I say that because of what ‘V’ did for us last year, stepping in when Lane was not with us,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said after practice Tuesday.

A fifth-round draft pick from TCU, Vaitai is now cemented in his role for the Eagles heading into 2017.

“This is a good opportunity to keep making a name for myself,” Vaitai said. “From the first game last year to now, there's a big difference.

“Like I keep always keep telling myself, ‘If these guys can do it, why can't I do it?’”

Vaitai struggled mightily – and very visibly at that – in his first NFL start at Washington last season, but gradually improved as the weeks progressed. Within a month, he had developed into an acceptable stand-in for Johnson and was playing some pretty good football.

It was an adjustment for everybody, to say the least. It was also tremendous experience for Vaitai, who credits Johnson and Eagles left tackle Jason Peters in aiding his growth.

“Just think of it this way: It was like being a freshman all over again last year,” Vaitai said. “Going to college, you're new to the offense, new coaches and everything, but it's just like here, only more of a business.

“Coming in here, you're like, 'Oh, dang,' thinking a lot. The good thing about it is I'm getting mentored by one of the greatest guys in the world, not only Jason but Lane, too. They've been helping me, not only with the technique but getting my mental right.”

With Tobin gone, the Eagles are placing a lot more responsibility on Vaitai’s shoulders. The 24-year-old is suddenly the next man up at not one, but two positions.

“Obviously, comfortable with Jason Peters and Lane as our starters," Pederson said, "and Big V as the swing tackle that can go left or right.”

Listed at 6-foot-6, 320 pounds, Vaitai certainly possesses the size to tangle with defenders on the left, but he faced some questions about his athleticism coming out of college. His technique remains the No. 1 concern, however, and as we’ve seen from Tobin, or even from Johnson this preseason, learning to play multiple positions can be a daunting task.

“Now I kind of understand what Matt was going through the last couple years playing left and right and guard,” Vaitai said. “It's just one of those things where if you're the next guy up on the bench, you have to do it.

“I played left and right tackle at TCU, but more of a spread offense there. Here, it's a little challenging because I've trained (on the right). This is more of a muscle memory thing.”

The Tobin trade made it more likely the Eagles keep Dillon Gordon on the 53-man roster.

Entering his second season, Gordon was undrafted from LSU, where he played tight end. The Eagles have put a lot into the conversion already, stashing him on the 53 for the entire 2016 campaign, though he suited up for just one game.

“Tobin was here when I first came in, and he was another guy who took me under his wing, teaching me little things about the game, and you hate to see for him to go,” Gordon said. “But then it's also a boost for me and some of these other tackles that are here. It kind of solidifies your spot on the team.”

Whether Gordon cracks the roster might be based on how many offensive linemen the Eagles keep this season. With Stefan Wisniewski serving as the primary backup on the interior, and reclamation project Chance Warmack also in the mix, it’s still a numbers game on the O-line.

Dealing Tobin brought some clarity to the picture, but the Eagles still face tough decisions.

“The thing is you go into games with seven offensive linemen," Pederson said, "and I don't know how many, right now, we're going to end up keeping.

“We kept 10 last year. Whether it's going to be nine or eight, we haven't made that decision yet, but we're comfortable with the guys. I don't think you make these moves if you're not comfortable with the guys that are working.”

One thing is for sure, and that’s having too many quality reserves or prospects along the O-line is a nice problem to have.

“We have some really, really good backups that would be starters other places for sure,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said. “As an offensive line, you have to have depth because injuries happen, as we've seen, and I think we have some guys who are more than capable and ready to go.”

The Eagles also showed confidence in their interior depth early on in camp, sending Allen Barbre to the Broncos. Barbre started the previous two seasons at left guard and previously played offensive tackle for the club as well.

As one player observed, multiple trades are simply a sign of a plan coming together.

“This organization has done a good job of adding a lot of good players to this offensive line,” Wisniewski said. “It's good because then you have options, options like trades in the summer, if guys get hurt, you still feel good about what you have. It seems like it's been a plan to add a lot of guys and see what happens.

“Seems like the plan's working out.”

Eagles camp notes, quotes and tidbits: 1st teams; Rasul Douglas' physicality

Eagles camp notes, quotes and tidbits: 1st teams; Rasul Douglas' physicality

The Eagles had their first full-squad practice on Thursday afternoon, following conditioning tests in the morning. 

Head coach Doug Pederson said his players "really knocked [the conditioning test] out."

Practice began at 12:45 p.m. and offered our first look at the entire squad together at training camp. While it was a really light workout — they call it a "10-10-10" — practice still allowed us to see which players were working with the starters. 

The day after offensive coordinator Frank Reich named Isaac Seumalo the starter, Seumalo took his place at left guard between Jason Peters and Jason Kelce. It's worth noting that Chance Warmack took second-team left guard reps. He is a former first-round pick who, if he rediscovers that magic, might have a shot at taking the starting gig. 

Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith were the team's two outside receivers, while Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor took reps in the slot. 

On the other side of the ball, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry took first-team reps. For the most part, they lined up with Graham at left end and Curry at right end. Chris Long took second-team reps at left, and Derek Barnett took second-team reps at right end. Barnett at right end is noteworthy because he might have a chance to beat out Curry for a starting gig during camp. 

The Eagles used Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson as their two starting outside corners, with Ron Brooks coming in as the nickel corner. This is a change from the spring when Brooks was still out with injury. During OTAs, Mills was sliding inside in the nickel package and rookie Rasul Douglas took one of the outside spots. On Thursday, Douglas was a part of the second unit, along with C.J. Smith and Aaron Grymes. 

Let's get physical 
Douglas, the third-round rookie from West Virginia, has pretty good size. At 6-2, 209, he has the type of body that can match up against some of the NFL's bigger targets. And he likes to use that body. 

Early in camp, it's been a little tough for him because he hasn't been allowed to use press coverage as much as he would like. That should change soon when the first real practices of camp begin. 

A few times over the first several days, defensive backs coach Cory Undlin has given Douglas the go-ahead to press and the rookie has shown the ability to jam guys at the line. It's an important part of his game. 

"It's big," Douglas said. "I like being at the line of scrimmage. That's where I'm more comfortable at. And it gives me an advantage to mess up timing, using my arms."

The Eagles had referees out at practice Thursday, but the real competition hasn't yet begun. Douglas said he likes to test refs to see just how much contact he can get away with. 

"Definitely," he said. "You definitely want to grab them a little bit, maybe touch them a few more yards after five. And just see what the ref has to say. If he comes back to you and says you're a little grabby, now you know, OK, this is how you're going to call the game for the rest of the game. But if he lets you, then you know he's going to let me play, so you just play ball."  

The day after moves
Pederson addressed the media on Thursday afternoon for the first time since the Eagles traded Allen Barbre to the Broncos and released former first-round pick Marcus Smith. 

Why did the Eagles decide to trade Barbre? 

"Well, first of all, I appreciate everything Allen did for us last year for this organization, last couple of seasons, obviously," Pederson said. "You know, again, it's a situation where we feel real comfortable, I feel real comfortable with some of the young guys on our roster, and to make the move now — and obviously it worked out that we were able to get something for Allen to do it now early. It allows him to be established and it allows our younger players to grow a little bit."

And then there's Smith. Pederson was the Chiefs' offensive coordinator in 2014 when the Eagles used a first-round pick on Smith, so he doesn't get the blame. 

But it's still disappointing when a first-rounder doesn't work out. 

"Well, obviously you want all your draft picks to make your squad," Pederson said. "But again, every case is different. Again, we're very pleased, very happy with some of the performances of our younger players. Again, it's a great opportunity for Marcus now to get in with a camp and get picked up and continue his career." 

Smith cleared waivers on Thursday and is now a free agent. 

Eagles trade OL Allen Barbre to Broncos before officially releasing him

Eagles trade OL Allen Barbre to Broncos before officially releasing him

Updated: 4:57 p.m.

About 2½ hours after offensive coordinator Frank Reich anointed second-year pro Isaac Seumalo the Eagles' starting left guard, the team said it had released incumbent left guard Allen Barbre, a 10-year veteran.

Only the Eagles didn't cut Barbre.

Before his release, the Eagles were actually able to trade the veteran offensive lineman to the Broncos for a 2019 conditinal draft pick. Instead of getting nothing for Barbre, they'll at least have a chance to get a draft pick. 

Doug Pederson has said all offseason there is an open competition at left guard, a battle that presumably included Seumalo, Barbre and veterans Chance Warmack and Stefen Wisniewski.

But Reich ended the competition Tuesday morning before veteran training camp even began.

No longer in the mix to be a starter, Barbre became expendable with a $1.75 million base salary.

In a statement released before the news of the trade, Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman indicated Barbre and the team mutually agreed to part ways.

"Allen Barbre is a pro’s pro,” Roseman said in the statement. “Not only did he help the team with his solid play as a starter at left guard, but his ability to step up and play multiple positions helped us battle through some difficult situations.

"We had a conversation (Tuesday) and agreed it made sense to allow him to pursue some other opportunities, but the door is open for him to return here as well."

By trading Barbre, the Eagles save $2.1 million in cap space. He was scheduled to earn $1.75 million in base salary with a $2.25 million cap hit. Instead, he will cost only $150,000 in dead money.

Because of those figures, Barbre was a long shot to make the final roster, at least with that base salary.

Barbre, originally the Packers' fourth-round pick in 2007, joined the Eagles in 2013 and was an emergency replacement for left tackle Jason Peters in a midseason win over the Packers at Lambeau Field.

He went on to become the opening day starter at right tackle in 2014, to only suffer a season-ending ankle injury on opening day. He then started all 16 games at left guard in 2015 and 12 more last year — nine at left guard, three at right tackle.

Barbre, 33, has played in 76 games for the Packers, Seahawks, Dolphins and Eagles.