Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Offensive Line

Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp: Offensive Line

We continue our training camp preview by breaking down the Eagles at offensive line, which is primed to go from rags to riches with three starters returning from injury and the fourth-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft joining the unit.

[ Five Tough Questions for Eagles Training Camp:
Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End
Defensive Line | Linebackers | Cornerback | Safety ]

Can Jason Peters make a full recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon?

That, my friends, is the million dollar question. The 2012 campaign was effectively over before it ever began for the Eagles once Peters ruptured his Achilles during a private offseason workout, then again some weeks later while trying to roll-a-bout his home. Without an elite left tackle to anchor the offensive line, it made everyone’s job more difficult, to the degree where even if center Jason Kelce and right tackle Todd Herremans hadn’t followed suit with season-ending injuries of their own, the unit probably would not have been a strong one.

The good news is Peters was back participating in practices with the rest of the team this year, and he certainly sounds healthy. We hear you would never even be able to tell he had been so seriously hurt if you weren't already aware in the first place.

But that’s understandably a little hard for some to believe. Achilles injuries are among the worst in sports, at least as far as what could be considered commonplace. It’s even harder on a man as large as Peters (6-4, 340). Philly fans are getting a taste of that with Ryan Howard, who weighs somewhere around 100 lbs. less, and continues to experience other foot and knee problems in the same leg since his blew up nearly two years ago. Peters has to rely much more on athleticism and at least as much on leverage – and he’s had two procedures on it now.

Ultimately the answer here is who knows. We won’t truly find out until he is trying to get to the second and third level to set blocks down the field for LeSean McCoy, or when he’s going one-on-one with a Hall-of-Fame pass rusher the likes of DeMarcus Ware. If there are any positives here, it’s that Peters will be roughly a year-and-a-half removed from surgery by the time he plays his first meaningful game. Regardless, we have to be skeptical whether at 31 years old he’ll ever be one of the most dominant players in the NFL again.

Will Lane Johnson stand out during his rookie season?

I kind of hope not. Notice the choice of language in the question – or lack thereof in this case. An offensive lineman can stand out in a positive way, like Peters in ’11 when he was rounding into what many believed was the best left tackle in football. Or he can stand out in a negative way, like Danny Watkins has for the Eagles, when he wasn’t ready to start on opening day of his rookie season, and has been something of a turnstile ever since.

There’s a chance Lane Johnson, the fourth-overall pick of the draft, just “gets it.” Described as a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense due to his athleticism, maybe he comes in and immediately sets a tone, showcasing the rare ability to bookend the Birds’ offensive line for the next decade.

Then again, that might be a fairy tale of sorts. Like Watkins before him, Johnson is extremely inexperienced, playing just two seasons of college ball on Oklahoma's line. Clearly he has the tools to develop into a cornerstone of the O-line, if not a Pro Bowler someday, but he is incredibly raw. As a rookie, you more or less have to hope he can just blend in with the rest of group, because chances are "standing out" could mean he’s having trouble adapting.

One thing I really like about Johnson that has been undersold is his football IQ. He’s played all over the field, from quarterback, to tight end, to defensive end, so he understands the game from a variety of perspectives. Those experiences should only aid his learning and development. That said, we shouldn’t be disappointed if he has a quiet rookie season – it may even be for the best.

How easily can Todd Herremans transition to right guard?

It shouldn’t be a problem for Herremans. This will be his third full-time position along the Eagles’ offensive line, and he’s held up no matter where the club has moved him to. Sliding back inside where he played for six of his eight NFL seasons should actually be an improvement, as Herremans struggled a bit at right tackle in his second year there with Peters out of the picture and the resulting increase in responsibilities.

And while Herremans previously played guard almost entirely on the left side for the Birds, lining up on the right isn’t exactly like taking a trip Mars or something. The broken bone in his foot has healed, so he should be good to go. There’s no real reason to anticipate any major issues as a result of this change.

Will Danny Watkins make the team?

You would have to think his spot on the roster is up for grabs, although it’s incredibly difficult to get a read on what’s going on with Watkins. Last season it was is he or isn’t he hurt. A supposed chronic ankle injury was the reason Andy Reid gave for removing the Watkins from the starting lineup, but that claim was often disputed, and hardly made sense given the 28 year old would dress most Sundays. Seems he was simply demoted.

Then the new coaching staff came in and was probably hoping to salvage Watkins for depth at least. Before mini-camps and OTAs were over though, Watkins was passed by the likes of journeyman Allen Barbre for first-team reps. Granted Chip Kelly has said not to make much of the depth chart, and star players such as DeSean Jackson have been known to run with the threes, but it still isn’t a good sign when a relative unknown such Barbre is out in front of a recent first-round pick.

I wouldn’t say that’s a necessarily sign Watkins’ time is running out, but I wouldn’t ignore it, either. There is plenty of other competition for those backup spots, too – Dennis Kelly did okay at tackle and pitched in at guard (less successfully) in his first year, 2011 fifth rounder Julian Vandervelde is still in the picture, as are Nate Menkin and Matt Tennant, a pair of players the Birds picked up off the scrap heap last season from Houston and New England respectively.

Little more than two years ago, Watkins was projected to be better than any of them, so you have to think the talent is there. Maybe he wasn’t a fit for departed offensive line coach Howard Mudd’s scheme, and will flourish under Jeff Stoutland. Mayve he simply doesn't have the heart. Whatever the case, the clock is ticking, and it might not be much of a stretch to imagine Watkins hanging off the back of a fire truck rather than standing on a football field come September.

Is Evan Mathis the best player on the Eagles’ roster right now?

You could make that argument. In fact, I believe we just did. Mathis isn’t even the best player on the offensive line if Peters is completely healthy and can regain his All-Pro form, but that’s far from a given. Based on last season, LeSean McCoy is somewhat dependent on the strength of the linemen in front of him. DeSean Jackson, Trent Cole… virtually anybody we can think of who might be in the conversation is coming off of one or multiple down years.

Except Mathis that is. He was probably the Eagles’ most valuable player last season, which isn’t saying much on a 4-12 team, but hey. He was their only lineman who started all 16 games, and he’s their only lineman period who actually played at a high level consistently. You probably couldn’t tell while defenders were constantly running free into the backfield, but he continued to be a rock at left guard.

For the second consecutive season Mathis ranked near the top of Pro Football Focus’ scoring for guards, while the site said he had the sixth-best year of any player in the NFL – up from 18 in 2011.

Hard as it may be to believe, Pro Bowl snubs or no, but a former journeyman lineman perhaps the only sure thing the Eagles have on their roster right now. Considering he signed a five-year contract worth $25 million last offseason, maybe you should pick up a No. 69 if you're in the market for a new jersey this summer.

Andrew Kulp is a freelance writer covering Philadelphia sports for The700Level.com. E-mail him at andrewkulp@comcast.net or follow him on Twitter.

NBC Sports Philadelphia Internship - Advertising/Sales

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NBC Sports Philadelphia Internship - Advertising/Sales

Position Title: Intern
Department: Advertising/Sales
Company: NBC Sports Philadelphia
# of hours / week: 10 – 20 hours

Deadline: November 20

Basic Function

This position will work closely with the Vice President of Sales in generating revenue through commercial advertisements and sponsorship sales. The intern will gain first-hand sales experience through working with Sales Assistants and AEs on pitches, sales-calls and recapping material.

Duties and Responsibilities

• Assist Account Executive on preparation of Sales Presentations
• Cultivate new account leads for local sales
• Track sponsorships in specified programs
• Assist as point of contact with sponsors on game night set up and pre-game hospitality elements.
• Assist with collection of all proof of performance materials.
• Perform Competitive Network Analysis
• Update Customer database
• Other various projects as assigned

Requirements

1. Good oral and written communication skills.
2. Knowledge of sports.
3. Ability to work non-traditional hours, weekends & holidays
4. Ability to work in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment
5. Must be 19 years of age or older
6. Must be a student in pursuit of an Associate, Bachelor, Master or Juris Doctor degree
7. Must have unrestricted authorization to work in the US
8. Must have sophomore standing or above
9. Must have a 3.0 GPA

Interested students should apply here and specify they're interested in the ad/sales internship.

About NBC internships

Eagles-Redskins: Roob's 10 observations

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Eagles-Redskins: Roob's 10 observations

BOX SCORE

Another win, another masterpiece from Carson Wentz, another glowing 10 instant observations.

The best team on Earth put a stranglehold on the NFC East with a 34-24 win over the Redskins Monday night at the Linc. The only one-loss team in the NFL improved to 6-1 and continued its drive to the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

In tonight's 10 instant observations, we marvel at Wentz, lament the loss of Jason Peters, look at some remarkable run defense and much, much more.

This is fun, isn't it?

1. Best thing about this game was that it showed how the Eagles can fight through adversity. And they sure faced plenty of it early with a turnover, penalties on their first four plays, bad field position, three Redskin sacks and a 10-3 deficit midway through the second quarter. When the Redskins took a 10-3 lead, they had out-gained the Eagles 178-32. And we all saw how they responded. The offensive line, struggling badly early, regrouped and gave Wentz the time to throw a 64-yard touchdown pass to rookie Mack Hollins and — after a three-and-out — a 46-yard strike to Zach Ertz 1½ minutes later and then a TD pass to Ertz, and just like that the Eagles had turned a TD deficit into a TD advantage and eventually a double-digit win. That ability to stare adversity in the face and power through it is a really special trait.

2. Was very rough to see Peters go down in the third quarter. That man is so revered and respected in the Eagles' locker room, and in his 14th season he's been playing at a very high level. Seeing a guy we all look at as Superman lying on the Lincoln Financial Field turf near tears and grabbing his knee was very tough to watch. Peters has never played in a postseason win, and this team really wanted to end that streak. But this team will honor Peters by playing the kind of tough, aggressive, physical type of football that Peters has been playing since he got here in 2009. I can't think of any better way to honor Peters than continuing to play the kind of football they've been playing.

3. I'm running out of ways to marvel at Wentz. He's now doing things in his second year that Donovan McNabb — a Hall of Fame candidate at the very least and the greatest quarterback in Eagles history — never did. Three touchdowns in three straight games is something no Eagles quarterback had done since Bobby Thomason back in 1953. With 6:20 left in the first half, Wentz was 2 for 5 for 24 yards, had been sacked three times, had fumbled, had thrown an interception, and his team trailed 10-3. And by the middle of the third quarter, he had thrown three touchdowns and the Eagles led 24-10. Wentz finished 17 for 25 for 268 yards with four TDs and one interception. He already has 17 touchdown passes — more than all of last year and the most ever by an Eagles QB after seven games. He is simply magical right now. Squeezing out of a near sack to throw a touchdown pass to Corey Clement. Diving for 21 yards instead of sliding after getting the first down. Bombing away to a rookie fourth-round pick with five career receptions. We are seeing the birth of a superstar in front of our eyes.

4. The Eagles continue to dazzle against the run, and once again they forced an opponent to essentially give up the running game because it just wasn't working. The Redskins' backs ran just 13 times for 39 yards and ran just four times in the second half. Part of it was the Eagles extended their lead later in the half but the ‘Skins also just couldn't do anything on the ground, and that's a top-10 rushing offense. Kareem Hunt remains the only running back this year to rush for more than 35 yards against the Eagles, and that's insane. The Eagles have held five straight opponents to 80 or fewer rushing yards, the first time that's happened since 1992. Really impressive stuff for Fletcher Cox and Co.

5. I've been a Hollins fan since I first saw him in OTAs. He's just so smooth and makes everything look so effortless. He's fast and has good size and great hands. I’m not an NFL scout but I have no clue how this kid was a fourth-round pick. Back in the spring, Hollins was basically the eighth receiver on the roster behind guys like Bryce Treggs, Dorial Green-Beckham and Shelton Gibson. But he never worried about any of that and just continued to shine and work his way up the depth chart. Now he's emerging as a real weapon. His 64-yard TD Monday night was the longest by an Eagles rookie since Hank Baskett's 89-yarder from A.J. Feeley against the Falcons in 2006. He's got six targets, six catches, five first downs, one TD and 134 receiving yards. I don't know what the future holds for Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, but I do know that Hollins is going to be a productive, dynamic receiver for this team for a long time.

6. One thing that impresses me tremendously about the Eagles is their ability to win in a lot of different ways. The last month, they've run the ball real well, averaging 158 rushing yards during their four-game winning streak coming into the Redskins game. But that wasn't happening Monday night. The Redskins stuffed the run virtually the entire night — LeGarrette Blount, who's been so good, ran 10 times for two yards before a late 21-yard run just before the two-minute warning. Even with that carry, the backs ran 25 times for 64 yards (2.6). So Wentz made plays through the air and made plays on the ground, and the Eagles won a game without much help from the running game. This team's ability to find different ways to win football games makes them very tough to beat.

7. Another huge game for Zach Ertz, with five catches for 89 yards and his career-high fifth touchdown. Through seven games, Ertz now has 39 catches for 494 yards. He and Wentz have such a remarkable connection. I feel like he can connect with the fifth-year tight end any time he wants.

8. I thought this was a really outstanding day for Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The Redskins gashed the Eagles early, netting 178 yards, eight first downs and 10 points on their first four drives. They had plays of 17, 20, 31, 32 and 32 yards on those drives. That was the first 21 minutes of the game. Most of that just disappeared during the span the Eagles outscored the Redskins 31-7 over the next 33 minutes. On the ‘Skins' six drives after that hot start, they netted 100 yards (17 per drive), six first downs and seven points with no plays of 17 yards or more. Coaching is adjusting, and Schwartz was very, very good at it Monday night — even without Jordan Hicks.

9. You know what, Malcolm Jenkins has been in the news a lot lately for his community work, his political views and his efforts to communicate with Commissioner Roger Goodell on behalf of the NFL players. So much so that you can forget what an exceptional safety he is. Jenkins was terrific again Monday night, with nine tackles, a sack, a quarterback hit and a hurry. Whatever you think of his activism, you can't question his ability, his effort and his value to this defense and this football team.

10. Was great to see rookie Derek Barnett break out with two sacks. That made him the Eagles' first rookie with a two-sack game since Trent Cole in 2005 and only the sixth to ever do it. Barnett now has 2½ sacks, and you just see him growing more and more comfortable. He's in a great situation, surrounded by so many talented defensive linemen. The Eagles are getting contributions from a lot of rookies right now, and I think you'll see Barnett just continue to improve.