Stefan Wisniewski

Doug Pederson still undecided on Eagles' starter at left guard

Doug Pederson still undecided on Eagles' starter at left guard

As expected, Chance Warmack got the start Sunday at left guard for the Eagles. The surprising part was Stefen Wisniewski wound up playing the majority of the snaps.

Warmack wound up being on the field for 32 plays against the Giants, compared to 44 for Wisniewski. It’s not as if Warmack exited the game with an injury or was benched for poor play, either. The two of them alternated throughout the contest.

After the game, Eagles coach Doug Pederson acknowledged the plan was to rotate Warmack and Wisnewski all along.

“We wanted to give both of those guys an opportunity [Sunday], and it just so happened that Wis ended up taking the bulk of the reps,” Pederson said. “But we had them both ready.”

Pederson added the rotation was based on in-game performance. The next day, however, he wasn’t ready to settle on a permanent starter at left guard.

“There was some positives with both players,” Pederson said Monday. “Chance had a couple of missed opportunities early in the game, but bounced back and in the run game was effective. At the same time, Wis getting an opportunity — Wis is that veteran player you know when you put him in that he's going to execute and do some nice things for you.

“It's something we'll evaluate this week again going forward, and by Sunday, we'll have the best five out there.”

That means Warmack and Wisniewski could continue auditioning for the job in Week 4 when the Eagles travel to Los Angeles to face the Chargers.

“If someone at that position just steps up, we definitely could go into a game with seven guys,” Pederson said.

Despite shuffling different players in and out, the offensive line turned in its best performance of the season so far. Eagles running backs rushed 33 times for 171 yards — a 5.2 average — and two touchdowns, while quarterback Carson Wentz was hit on only four of 37 dropbacks.

While continuity is essential to quality offensive line play, Pederson has repeatedly downplayed that notion, likening changes up front to substitutions at other positions.

“These guys are all prepared the same, so we shouldn't miss a beat one way or the other just by rotating at that position,” Pederson said.

“The way our guys practice and the way (Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland) prepares these guys, it's seamless. It's flawless, and that's the way it should be. As backup role players, you're expected to know what a starter does. Same as a backup quarterback, you should be expected to do the same thing.”

Several of the Eagles’ veteran linemen didn’t disagree.

“Both of those guys — I played beside before, so it’s not a big deal,” said left tackle Jason Peters, adding he did not know beforehand who would be lining up to his right.

“The thing is, they’ve had numerous reps,” right tackle Lane Johnson said. “That’s what are OTAs are for. You get numerous reps, so when your number is called, you’re not caught off guard.”

Of course, that’s easy for everybody else to say. Warmack and Wisniewski are almost certainly trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

Warmack was unavailable for comment postgame, but Wisnewski admitted there are some challenges involved with subbing in and out.

“It’s definitely easier for anybody to be in there and feel the flow of the game, whether you’re a running back, an offensive lineman, whoever,” Wisniewski said. “But we made it work today.

“We’re all pros. Mentally, all you can do is be ready when they call your number and try to stay warm on the sideline.”

The situation at left guard came about because second-year pro Isaac Seumalo struggled in his first two starts. Pederson stresses the club hasn’t lost faith in Seumalo, and “he’s still in the mix.” But for the time being, at least, the Eagles appear determined to go in a different direction at that spot.

Thus, the ongoing competition — while unorthodox — probably is not as unique or atypical as it sounds.

“I actually talked to (former Eagles offensive lineman) Allen Barbre last night,” Johnson said. “They’re doing the same thing with him in Denver. It’s not out of the ordinary. They have two guys, want to see what they can do and see who the better man is.”

In this case, the Eagles have two players with vastly different skill sets, so it makes sense to see which meshes better with their teammates.

“Wis is more of a technician,” Peters said. “He’s almost like a center at guard, which he really is. He knows the offense, he’s giving calls, more of a communicator. And Chance is more of an aggressor. He wants to get into the linebackers.”

Wisniewski could not personally remember an occasion where he was rotating in and out of the lineup during a game. Regardless, the Eagles picked up a victory over the NFC East rival Giants, so for one week anyway, it was all good.

“The guys around us, (Eagles center Jason Kelce) and JP did well rolling with it,” Wisniewski said. “It worked out well. Got a win, ran the ball well and protected well as a whole.”

Long-term, it would behoove the Eagles to settle on a permanent starter sooner rather than later.

Trades of veteran offensive linemen signal Eagles' confidence in depth at position

Trades of veteran offensive linemen signal Eagles' confidence in depth at position

Clearly, the Eagles feel good about their offensive line depth, trading away two experienced veterans since training camp opened in July. It also sounds like the latest deal to send Matt Tobin to the Seahawks had a lot to do with the organization’s faith in one player in particular.

Tobin made 21 starts over four seasons with the Eagles and was the first player off the bench at offensive tackle when the 2016 campaign began. Yet, after Lane Johnson was suspended for 10 games, it was Halapoulivaati Vaitai who took over at right tackle, and the player known as “Big V” stuck until an MCL sprain knocked him out of the lineup.

Vaitai’s performance in seven games as a rookie apparently was enough to put the Eagles at ease when Seattle came calling about Tobin.

“I'm really comfortable, and I say that because of what ‘V’ did for us last year, stepping in when Lane was not with us,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said after practice Tuesday.

A fifth-round draft pick from TCU, Vaitai is now cemented in his role for the Eagles heading into 2017.

“This is a good opportunity to keep making a name for myself,” Vaitai said. “From the first game last year to now, there's a big difference.

“Like I keep always keep telling myself, ‘If these guys can do it, why can't I do it?’”

Vaitai struggled mightily – and very visibly at that – in his first NFL start at Washington last season, but gradually improved as the weeks progressed. Within a month, he had developed into an acceptable stand-in for Johnson and was playing some pretty good football.

It was an adjustment for everybody, to say the least. It was also tremendous experience for Vaitai, who credits Johnson and Eagles left tackle Jason Peters in aiding his growth.

“Just think of it this way: It was like being a freshman all over again last year,” Vaitai said. “Going to college, you're new to the offense, new coaches and everything, but it's just like here, only more of a business.

“Coming in here, you're like, 'Oh, dang,' thinking a lot. The good thing about it is I'm getting mentored by one of the greatest guys in the world, not only Jason but Lane, too. They've been helping me, not only with the technique but getting my mental right.”

With Tobin gone, the Eagles are placing a lot more responsibility on Vaitai’s shoulders. The 24-year-old is suddenly the next man up at not one, but two positions.

“Obviously, comfortable with Jason Peters and Lane as our starters," Pederson said, "and Big V as the swing tackle that can go left or right.”

Listed at 6-foot-6, 320 pounds, Vaitai certainly possesses the size to tangle with defenders on the left, but he faced some questions about his athleticism coming out of college. His technique remains the No. 1 concern, however, and as we’ve seen from Tobin, or even from Johnson this preseason, learning to play multiple positions can be a daunting task.

“Now I kind of understand what Matt was going through the last couple years playing left and right and guard,” Vaitai said. “It's just one of those things where if you're the next guy up on the bench, you have to do it.

“I played left and right tackle at TCU, but more of a spread offense there. Here, it's a little challenging because I've trained (on the right). This is more of a muscle memory thing.”

The Tobin trade made it more likely the Eagles keep Dillon Gordon on the 53-man roster.

Entering his second season, Gordon was undrafted from LSU, where he played tight end. The Eagles have put a lot into the conversion already, stashing him on the 53 for the entire 2016 campaign, though he suited up for just one game.

“Tobin was here when I first came in, and he was another guy who took me under his wing, teaching me little things about the game, and you hate to see for him to go,” Gordon said. “But then it's also a boost for me and some of these other tackles that are here. It kind of solidifies your spot on the team.”

Whether Gordon cracks the roster might be based on how many offensive linemen the Eagles keep this season. With Stefan Wisniewski serving as the primary backup on the interior, and reclamation project Chance Warmack also in the mix, it’s still a numbers game on the O-line.

Dealing Tobin brought some clarity to the picture, but the Eagles still face tough decisions.

“The thing is you go into games with seven offensive linemen," Pederson said, "and I don't know how many, right now, we're going to end up keeping.

“We kept 10 last year. Whether it's going to be nine or eight, we haven't made that decision yet, but we're comfortable with the guys. I don't think you make these moves if you're not comfortable with the guys that are working.”

One thing is for sure, and that’s having too many quality reserves or prospects along the O-line is a nice problem to have.

“We have some really, really good backups that would be starters other places for sure,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said. “As an offensive line, you have to have depth because injuries happen, as we've seen, and I think we have some guys who are more than capable and ready to go.”

The Eagles also showed confidence in their interior depth early on in camp, sending Allen Barbre to the Broncos. Barbre started the previous two seasons at left guard and previously played offensive tackle for the club as well.

As one player observed, multiple trades are simply a sign of a plan coming together.

“This organization has done a good job of adding a lot of good players to this offensive line,” Wisniewski said. “It's good because then you have options, options like trades in the summer, if guys get hurt, you still feel good about what you have. It seems like it's been a plan to add a lot of guys and see what happens.

“Seems like the plan's working out.”

Doug Pederson expects competition at LG for Eagles, Kelce to be on team

Doug Pederson expects competition at LG for Eagles, Kelce to be on team

PHOENIX -- Get ready for the great left guard competition of 2017.

While the Eagles still have all five members of their 2016 starting offensive line on the roster as of Wednesday morning at the league's annual meetings, it seems very possible the starting O-line won't look the same next year.

At the NFC coaches breakfast at the Biltmore Hotel, Pederson said he still expects center Jason Kelce to be on the roster when the season starts in September. With a few options to replace him, the team has reportedly been trying to trade Kelce, which would help their salary cap situation.

But even if Kelce is the team's starting center in 2017, there's no guarantee that last year's starting left guard, Allen Barbre, will be lining up next to him.

At first, Pederson, when asked about keeping the same starting O-line, said, "You'd hope so," but then talked about the competition for that left guard spot.

"Well, going into OTAs, Isaac (Seumalo) has showed he played on a moment's notice," Pederson said. "He's a guy that we want to get into the mix and Allen (Barbre) is a veteran player that obviously has a wealth of experience, obviously a lot of starts in the National Football League, so there's going to be some good competition going into this season."

And it's not just Seumalo and Barbre in contention to win the starting left guard spot. The team also brought in free agent and former first-round pick Chance Warmack and re-signed Stefen Wisniewski to a multi-year deal. Pederson mentioned both of them by name.

That leaves four players, with 171 combined career starts (Wisniewski 83, Warmack 48, Barbre 36, Seumalo 4), fighting for one starting gig.

"It just creates some of that competition that we're always looking for, trying to find the best five going into the season," Pederson said.

Barbre will be 33 by the time the season starts, Warmack is on a one-year deal, and Seumalo appears to be the center of the future, so any of these three taking backup roles makes sense for now.

The more unique situation is with Wisniewski. The 28-year-old guard/center came to the Eagles on a one-year deal last season and wasn't shy about his desire to become a starter. Then the Eagles signed him to a three-year deal this offseason.

"Again, it's another opportunity for him to compete and compete on our roster," Pederson said. "He had six starts last year and he filled a role that we needed last year. Going into this season, the beauty of having guys like that, whether they're starters, backups, role players, whatever you want to call them, it just gives you depth at the position and gives you competition in training camp. It's a great thing to have veteran players as backups or role players that compete and want to start."

While there will still be question marks at the left guard and even center positions when the Eagles get together for spring workouts, there aren't questions at the other three spots on the offensive line. Jason Peters is the left tackle, Brandon Brooks is the right guard and Lane Johnson is the right tackle.

It seems very possible, however, that this will be Peters' last season, at least with the Eagles. The team asked him to restructure his contract this offseason but eventually decided to keep him at his $11.7 million cap hit. That number would go up even more in 2018, the last year of his contract.

The Eagles already have a solid succession plan already in place. When Peters retires or moves on, Johnson will slide over from right tackle to left and protect Carson Wentz's blind side.

But do the Eagles have a replacement ready for Johnson?

Pederson thinks they might have an answer in Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a fifth-round pick last year, who will enter his second season in 2017. He's just not sure yet.

"It's hard to just say, pin me down and say he's a starter," Pederson said. "I think what he did last year, talk about incremental improvement, that kid improved every week and I think there's a chance. I think there's a chance he could be a dynamic starting tackle in his future. And, again, it's a credit to Jeff Stoutland and Howie (Roseman) and the guys for finding him and looking at him. He was one of the guys watching on tape last year that really stood out a little bit. You saw from the Washington game on, how well he improved. If he continues to do that, I think he could be a starter in this league."