Eagles

Improvements have Eagles center Jason Kelce back at Pro Bowl level

Jason Kelce struggled so badly the first half of last year that he admitted his days in Philadelphia could be numbered.

“I think that I quite frankly need to do a better job,” the veteran center said on Nov. 9. “I love playing in this city, I love playing in this organization, and if I’m going to keep doing that, I have to do a better job.”

Here we are 11 months later and Jason Kelce is still here and definitely doing a better job.

Kelce, who became a popular whipping boy of many fans over the past year, is back to his Pro Bowl level at center. The Eagles stuck with him, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland worked with him, Kelce vowed to improve, and here we are three weeks into the 2017 season and we're all seeing a different guy.

His performance in the win Sunday over the Giants may have been his best in three years.

"I think that this league is very straightforward when you’re not getting your job done," Kelce said at his locker after practice Thursday.

"You have to do your job, that’s just the bottom line. I’ve been on myself hard, Stout’s been on me hard to improve on some of the things that I lacked, especially at the beginning of last season.

"It’s frustrating when you’re not playing well, but then again, it also makes you re-evaluate what’s going on. Why are you struggling? Why is this happening? And we’re back on the right track so far this season."

Kelce turned the corner the last month of last season, when some of the technique changes he made at Stoutland's urging began paying dividends.

But Kelce continued to work throughout the offseason, and he's now playing his best football since 2014, his first Pro Bowl season.

"You go back and you watch tape, and you’re always going to have bad technique on certain plays here and there, but I think when you’re a little bit younger and maybe stronger, a little bit less injuries or whatnot, you get away with stuff a little bit more," he said.

"Whereas [last year], I got exposed a little bit more, and bad technique was definitely the reason for that.”

Specifically? Hands. That's what was getting Kelce in trouble last year.

"We put a big emphasis on having good inside hands, low hands, hands to the body, and that’s going to give you more power overall," he said. "You miss with hands, [opposing] guys are going to have hands in your chest, they’re going to have more power.

"So we’ve been talking about it all offseason, improving that for sure. Just every day when you go out there, you’re always focusing on certain things, setting a certain way, and I’m just focusing on hands inside and staying low, things like that. …

"These are things we worked on toward the end of last year, and I think we saw a payoff toward the end of last year, too. It’s stuff that Stout’s been on me really hard this entire offseason about improving, and I think it’s definitely been a much better start this year than last year, for sure."

The Eagles, 2-1 going into their game Sunday against the Chargers in Los Angeles, have improved over last year in just about every offensive category so far.

Scoring is up from 20.8 to 23.3, yards per game from 337 to 372, third-down efficiency from 38 percent to 48 percent, average gain per play from 5.0 to 5.4, rushing average from 4.1 to 4.5 and yards per completion from 10.0 to 11.3.

There are a lot of factors at work — Carson Wentz's growth, Lane Johnson's presence, upgraded receivers — but Kelce is definitely a big one.

"I think Kelce is playing great," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "He's really playing well in all phases. Just it's a credit to him, credit to his technique and fundamentals. It's a credit to the guys next to him. I'm sure Kelce would tell you the same thing. He's got some good guys playing next to him, and those guys work together."

Kelce, now 29 and in his seventh year with the Eagles, has already had quite a career.

Only four offensive linemen in franchise history have been to more Pro Bowls — Jason Peters (seven) and Hall of Famers Bob Brown and Jim Ringo along with Tra Thomas (three each). And only six players in franchise history taken in the sixth round or later have been to more Pro Bowls — Pete Retzlaff (five), Harold Carmichael (four) and Timmy Brown, Charlie Johnson, Floyd Peters and Ringo (three each).

Kelce heard all the criticisms. He's too old. He's too small. But he said that isn't what bothered him.

“I was more bothered by the fact that I just wasn’t playing well," he said. "You’re on this team, you’ve been here, and you’re used to playing at a certain level, and when you’re not playing at that level, it’s frustrating. Because people are relying on you to be on that level.

"It’s gotten better so far this season and hopefully it will continue to get better. But everything for me at least and I think most of these guys in here is all about how we’re perceived in the building and how we’re perceived within our team. That’s the biggest thing."