jeff stoutland

Eagles notice big change in Lane Johnson

usa-lane-johnson.jpg
USA Today Images

Eagles notice big change in Lane Johnson

Fresh off a pretty dominating performance against Von Miller, it's pretty safe to say Lane Johnson is playing at an extremely high level, a Pro Bowl level even. 

The Eagles' right tackle has seemingly used his 10-game PED suspension from last year as motivation. He's on a mission to prove himself in the NFL and it's working. 

That's why when offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland was asked if this is the best football of Johnson's career, the veteran O-line coach gave a look of bewilderment. 

"Seriously?" Stoutland said, opening his eyes as wide as they go while dipping his head slightly forward. "He's off the chart right now.

"I think he just made his mind up that he wants to be a dominating player and whatever it takes from his standpoint, meetings, meeting room. From the time he walks in until the time he leaves here, it's all business for Lane. Lane's a worker, man."

After Jason Peters went down for the season, it might have made sense to flip Johnson from the right to left side and place Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle. But the Eagles decided to leave Johnson at his post for a few reasons. One of them is that Johnson is playing extremely well at right tackle. Another is that they didn't want to disrupt two spots. 

And another is that many premier pass-rushers line up on the right tackle. Demarcus Lawrence and Khalil Mack are still yet to come. As far as Miller, Stoutland said Johnson was "excellent" against the NFL's leader in sacks since 2011. He saw that one-handed toss Johnson pulled on Miller and recognized it as a technique they teach; Johnson executed it "perfectly." 

"He's always had that in him but I think it's at a different level right now," Stoutland said. "He's always had that in him."

Right guard
During his session with reporters Tuesday, Stoutland was answering a question when he got a little annoyed. He pointed out that no one had asked him about Brandon Brooks yet. Because while Johnson is playing at a Pro Bowl level, the guy lining up to his left is, too. 

Stoutland praised Brooks' consistency and his physicality. At 330 pounds, Brooks is the heaviest player on the roster. 

But he's pretty athletic for his size. 

"Extremely athletic. Sneaky athletic," Stoutland said. "You watch him when we screw around a little bit with the football. We'll throw the football around. He's just a very athletic guy for a big man."

A few times Sunday against Denver, it was Brooks who was downfield blocking in the second level. 

What's that like to see?  

"Pretty awesome," Stoutland said. "And then he can stand at the line of scrimmage in a phone booth and knock your face off, too." 

Left tackle 
The flip side of Johnson's staying at right tackle was that Vaitai simply replaced Peters at left tackle. That's no easy task. 

Big V has a pretty unassuming personality. He's so soft-spoken it's actually hard to imagine him having enough fire to be able to take on defensive linemen Sundays. But Stoutland knows how to get that out of him. 

"I know the secret. I know the button," he said. "Trust me. Ask him that. I push him."

When asked where Vaitai has improved the most, Stoutland answered by saying "the use of his hands." He said Vaitai has been able to use his hands violently without losing his balance. 

"He makes progress on a daily basis," Stoutland said. "Very happy with his progression. I like him as a left tackle. He's been a natural left tackle."

Center
For all the criticism Jason Kelce has gotten from fans over the last few years, the veteran center is playing at a really high level in 2017. 

Stoutland was willing to take some of the blame for Kelce's dip in play last season. 

"To be fair to Kelce, I asked him last year to do a whole bunch," Stoutland said. "I think I asked him to do a little bit too much and I think that kind of diluted a little bit of his ability and his production level, to be honest with you. That's on me. This year, we kind of tightened it up a little bit and put him in better positions to be productive and successful. But I have always had a tremendous regard for Jason Kelce and his ability to play center in this league."

Stoutland also praised Kelce's discipline. He said Kelce has always been a technician but is even more consistent with that this season. 

Left guard
Stefen Wisniewski was the third guy to get a crack at the left guard spot this season, but it doesn't look like he's going to give it up anytime soon. When Isaac Seumalo was struggling, the Eagles used a combination of Chance Warmack and Wiz until it was clear Wisniewski was just playing better. 

That's why he earned the job. 

"Just proved it every day. Production. Bottom line," Stoutland said. "The production level of the player. Everybody had their opportunity. And I told them all that. I told them nobody here is my cousin or anything. It's the production of the player and at the end of the day, that's the guy that was most productive."

Stoutland said he kept the rotation at left guard going until he was "100 percent sure" Wisniewski was the guy. That meant benching his longtime pupil dating back to Alabama. 

"Chance did nothing wrong," Stoutland said. "Chance was actually playing very good. At the end of the day, I just didn't feel like we could keep going on the way we were going."

Improvements have Eagles center Jason Kelce back at Pro Bowl level

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."

Eagles OL coach knows Chance Warmack like back of his hand

Eagles OL coach knows Chance Warmack like back of his hand

The last time Chance Warmack played under Jeff Stoutland, he was an All-American, first-team All-SEC and helped the Crimson Tide win a third national championship in four years.

A lot has changed since then.

Stoutland joined Chip Kelly's staff in Philadelphia the next year, and Warmack was selected 10th overall by the Titans in the 2013 draft. Stoutland's coaching style has translated to the NFL, but Warmack's dominance hasn't.

Now reunited after Warmack signed a one-year deal to join the Eagles this offseason, the duo is trying to re-find some of that magic.

"Chance and I had a lot of success together in the past," Stoutland said. "I know Chance like the back of my hand, and I'm excited about getting back with him, getting back together and getting him back to the level he played at when we were together before.

"I don't want to get into where he was at before because I wasn't there. I just know when I was with him, I know where to start, I know where his vulnerabilities are and I know where he needs to improve."

Warmack went to Tennessee and became an instant starter. He started 48 games with the Titans until he landed on injured reserve early last season with a hand injury.

But he wasn't the type of dominant player the Titans thought they were getting.

Sure, Warmack was a starter with the Titans, but he never lived up to his draft status, and the team elected to forgo exercising the fifth-year option on his contract. Arguably his best season came in 2014 when ProFootballFocus ranked him as the 16th best guard in the NFL.

That's not bad, but not nearly the kind of production the Titans expected when they took him with a top-10 pick, especially as a guard. In Warmack's 2013 draft class, he was actually the second guard taken, three spots after Jonathan Cooper, who has actually had less production since entering the league after breaking his fibula and missing his rookie season.

But those two are the only guards who have been taken in the top 10 since 1997. Of the 15 guards taken in the top 10 in the modern era (since 1970), three have become Hall of Famers.

Warmack isn't even a starter right now. But he's hoping Stoutland will be able to help him find what once made him a special prospect.

"He's a very direct coach, puts his hands on you," Warmack said. "He wants you to do it a particular way, he's very detailed. You can respect that a lot as a player. Just plugging in every day, man. You're trying to get better as a player every day, little by little."

Why is Stoutland the right coach for Warmack?

"I guess I just know the buttons to push in coaching him," Stoutland said. "I know the technique that he needs to perfect to be better. I guess, like anybody else here, if you had success somewhere with somebody, then you feel good about it."

It's been over four years since Warmack and Stoutland worked together, but Warmack said the O-line coach is the same guy now that he was when Warmack was a 19-, 20-year-old kid.

Warmack will turn 26 in September.

"Same guy. Very detailed coach," Warmack said. "Looks at every little thing that could make you a better player on the field. You gotta appreciate that."

With Tennessee, Warmack played right guard, a spot that's spoken for by Brandon Brooks in Philly.

Warmack's decision to come to Philly on a one-year deal was clearly influenced by the opportunity to play under Stoutland again. But it starts with himself.

"I have to have high expectations for myself," Warmack said. "It's just icing on the cake to have a coach who knows you and knows how you think and can elevate you."