On paper, the Eagles offensive line was going to be pretty good. In reality, it’s been pretty bad and sometimes it’s been even worse than that. The Eagles might have been able to overcome one injury to their o-line, but not four.
The Eagles end a disappointing season on Sunday against the New York Giants and one of the reasons it was disappointing was the uneven and often ugly play of the big guys up front. Eagles quarterbacks have been pressured all season and the team finished 21st in the NFL in sacks given up per pass play.
Nobody likes excuses, but this is more of an explanation – the Eagles (4-11) had to plug too many holes with too many young or old players and eventually that caught up to them.
“It’s been sort of a crazy year that way,’’ offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “We had a flood of new players all of the sudden, and then certainly there was some revamping done there.”
That revamping included sticking a journeyman (King Dunlap) at left tackle, a former practice squad player (Dallas Reynolds) at center, a rookie fifth-round draft pick (Dennis Kelly) at right tackle and a semi-retired veteran (Jake Scott) at right guard.
The biggest blow to the line came even before the season began, when All-Pro tackle Jason Peters ruptured an Achilles tendon and the player signed to replace him, Demetress Bell, ended up being a bust.
But not all of that revamping was because of injury. Right guard Danny Watkins, last year’s first-round draft pick, isn’t playing now because Scott – who was out of football until he signed with the Eagles on Nov. 12 — gives the line more stability and cohesion.
“With that group, you want all five of them dancing the same dance,’’ coach Andy Reid said when explaining why he’s sticking with Scott. “And if somebody steps in and is doing a pretty good job with it and it works, then you go with it.”
And they’ll be even more revamping once the season ends and Reid and Mornhinweg are fired, which seems to be a foregone conclusion now.
So, there will be changes, but the offensive line in 2013 could look a lot like the one in 2012 was supposed to look like, since injured starters like Jason Peters, Todd Herremans and Jason Kelce are expected to return.
“The young guys who have stepped in have done a good job,’’ Herremans said. “But you don’t take somebody like Jason Peters out of your lineup and not have it affect you. So, I think everybody is looking forward to next season and what we can be as an offensive line.”
There’s even an unexpected bonus to the injuries that crippled the offensive line this season — the young guys who had to fill in, like Kelly and Reynolds, gained valuable experience. They might not be starters next season, but they’ll be better equipped to handle things if called upon again and depth is always important, as the Eagles discovered the hard way this season.
“You always want to find positives in what you do and I think our growth is one of those positives,’’ Kelly said.
Left guard Evan Mathis has been the one constant this season – he’s the only offensive lineman to start every game and Mornhinweg called him “the last man standing.” The other linemen have leaned on Mathis and he said he’s impressed with how far they’ve come in a short amount of time.
“They’ve made a lot of improvements over the course of the year,’’ Mathis said. “Experience goes a long way on the offensive line and these guys have steadily improved over the course of the year.”
But that was this year. How about next year? Well, a lot will naturally depend on the new coach, assuming there is one. He might get rid of everybody on the line and start fresh, but that’s unlikely simply because the Eagles do have some good players and you can’t get rid of everybody.
No matter who the coach is, it wouldn’t be a shock if he selects an offensive lineman in the first round of April’s draft. Right now, the Eagles have the fourth overall selection and if they stay there they could have their pick of three blue-chip prospects – tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews of Texas A&M and guard Taylor Lewan of Michigan.
For the fun of it, imagine the Eagles select Joeckel in the first round and stick him at right tackle and move Herremans back to right guard. That would give the Eagles an offensive line of Peters and Joeckel at tackle, Mathis and Herremans at guard and Kelce at center.
Once again, that’s a pretty formidable offensive line on paper. Now, if the Eagles can just get it out on the field…
Contact Kevin Noonan at email@example.com.