All week, Eagles fans have been buzzing about injured offensive linemen Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce returning to practice, and those fans are excited about what that will mean for the Eagles’ inconsistent offense in the second half of the NFL season. But just because they can practice doesn’t mean that they can play, and Mathis and Kelce are still at least two weeks away from game action.
And that means for at least two more weeks – including Sunday’s game at the Arizona Cardinals — the Eagles will depend on two young players who were thrown into the deep end of the pool four games ago. Matt Tobin replaced Mathis (knee injury) at left guard and David Molk took over at center for Kelce (hernia), and if the two veterans do return in two weeks, the two young backups will have started five games, almost a third of the season. And after some early struggles, both have held their own for the 5-1 Eagles.
That’s not bad for a player (Molk) who wasn’t drafted until the seventh round and another (Tobin) who wasn’t drafted at all.
“We’ve done what we were asked to do, which was fill in for those guys and keep this offense moving forward,’’ Molk said. “There were a lot of skeptics at first and you really can’t blame them for doubting whether we could do the job. But we never doubted it and, more importantly, our coaches and teammates never doubted it.’’
Molk and Tobin didn’t do much to erase that doubt in their first game as starters, a 26-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Eagles were manhandled up front, the 49ers held All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy to just 17 yards on 10 carries, and afterward coach Chip Kelly said “We’re losing some battles at the line of scrimmage.’’
Molk and Tobin knew they didn’t play well against the 49ers, and if they didn’t know it on game day they had plenty of chances to review it while watching game tapes the following week.
“It wasn’t pretty and we weren’t happy with the way we played,’’ Tobin said. “But we also learned a lot and our coaches stuck with us and we’ve gotten better with every game and every practice.’’
Their last game was their best game, as the Eagles clobbered the New York Giants 27-0 and McCoy rushed for 149 yards on 22 carries. And the offensive line that was pushed around by the 49ers became the aggressors and took the fight to the Giants.
“I think there’s been a natural progression,’’ Tobin said. “We kind of got thrown right in there against San Francisco, which has a very good defensive front. But since then we’ve got to work with the ‘ones’ [starters] every day in practice and we have some games under our belts and our confidence has grown and grown – and in this game, confidence is everything. We’ve gotten better and we should be getting better because of that confidence.’’
The Eagles aren’t the only ones to notice that improvement, and especially the effort behind it.
“Those guys they put in there have battled their tails off,’’ Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said this week on a conference call with Delaware Valley media.
Their battling days will probably be coming to an end soon, and they’ll go back to their roles as backups, guys who get few snaps in practice and none in games. So even though it’s been a great ride for Molk and Tobin, they know it will end in a couple of weeks no matter how well they play until then.
“We understand the situation,’’ Molk said. “I know I certainly do. This is his [Kelce’s] team and his offensive line and he’s earned that by being one of the best centers in the league. That’s the way it should be.
“At the very least, we know that we did our jobs, and that’s to help this team wins games. That’s why we’re here and it’s very gratifying to know that we’ve contributed to the success we’ve had.’’
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.