Eagles

Right side of Eagles' offensive line should be lock for Pro Bowl

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USA Today Images

Right side of Eagles' offensive line should be lock for Pro Bowl

If everything continues to go to plan this season, the trio of Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson won't be in Orlando in late January for the Pro Bowl. 

If everything goes to plan, the Eagles' right side of the line will be too busy preparing to play in the Super Bowl. 

They'll certainly be deserving of making it to the Pro Bowl though. 

"I want to, man," Johnson said about the whole right side of the line making it. "I don't want to campaign for myself. But as far as the years we're having, we're doing pretty good."

Sometimes recognition is slow to come for offensive linemen. Kelce has already been to two Pro Bowls, so the name recognition will help his cause. Meanwhile, Brooks has been in the league since 2012, and Johnson has been in the league since 2013; neither has made a Pro Bowl yet. 

But it's hard to argue with results, and they're certainly deserving this season.  

While the Eagles lost future Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters for the season in the second Washington game and while they have started three different players at left guard before settling on Stefen Wisniewski, the right side of the offensive line has been incredible through 11 games. 

Kelce and Brooks have started every game and Johnson missed just one because of a concussion and a Thursday night game. 

"It’s a luxury not only to have those guys healthy but just playing together and [having] three guys playing at a very high level," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "The consistency of that, the confidence in that just grows more and more every week."

Johnson has been playing at a completely different level all season. It's pretty clear he had a mission coming into the 2017 season. He wanted to prove he was one of the NFL's best tackles and he wanted to prove doubters wrong after his second PED suspension last season.

Through 11 games, Johnson has shut down top pass-rushers like Ryan Kerrigan, Von Miller and Demarcus Lawrence. Halapoulivaati Vaitai has played well enough at left tackle to allow Johnson to stay on the right side, where he has been simply dominant (see story). 

"I don't like to over-hype players, especially in the middle of the season, but Lane is playing great football," Reich said. "I just can't imagine there's a better right tackle in the league. I can't imagine there's any tackle — if you add up the cumulative guys that he's going to have to block by the time is year is over and their sacks, I mean, it's unreal."

Brooks has overcome his anxiety issues to start the first 10 games this season. The only snaps he missed came when he got a break at the end of the Denver game in garbage time. The former third-round pick, who joined the Eagles before last season as a free agent, has always had Pro Bowl potential. But he's starting to fulfill it this season. 

According to ProFootballFocus, Brooks hasn't given up a sack and has given up just one quarterback hit all season. 

"It makes it easier, man. He's having a Pro Bowl year," Johnson said about playing with Brooks. "I look at Kelce and Brooks. [Brooks] is 340-plus, whatever he is, and he just makes it a lot easier for me blocking inside."

Then there's Kelce, who is one of the longest-tenured players on the team. The center has been in Philly since he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 draft and he's had plenty of ups and downs during his time. 

While he made the Pro Bowl last season, he didn't necessarily have a Pro Bowl season. Recently, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland took the blame for that, saying he asked too much of Kelce during the 2016 season. Kelce had a different reason for why things have been going so much better toward the end of last season and into this one. 

"I don't know about that," Kelce said, responding to Stoutland's comments. "I just know I'm utilizing different techniques. I'm using my hands better. Not just me, I think it's everybody. And then another year being in the system, in the offense, you're more comfortable, you understand everything better."

It's not incredibly rare for a team to send an entire side of its offensive line to the Pro Bowl. In fact, the Eagles did it as recently as 2014, when the left side of Kelce, Evan Mathis and Peters went. But that season Mathis played in just nine games. 

In the second year with the center, right guard and right tackle together, the chemistry is clearly at a new high. Rookie running back Corey Clement noted that the guys on that side of the line just seem to complement one another. 

What's it like running behind them? 

"It's an honor," Clement said. "Anybody can see it on the outside. Anybody who wants to be in this running back corps, you get a great group of guys who lay it out every week for you." 

5 more Eagles who were impressive during spring practices

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5 more Eagles who were impressive during spring practices

As the Eagles wrapped up their spring practices last week, head coach Doug Pederson was asked for a list of young players who stood out over the last few weeks. 

It was a pretty good list (see story)

But with a limited amount of time, Pederson probably didn’t mention every young player who had a good spring. I’m gonna give him a hand and list five more players he failed to mention. 

De’Vante Bausby 
This guy was the revelation of the spring. He joined the Eagles’ practice squad last season but seemingly has a great shot to make the active roster this year. During many OTA practices and in minicamp, the 25-year-old took first-team reps at the nickel corner spot. I still have trouble believing that Bausby is going to be on the field ahead of Sidney Jones, but that doesn’t take away from how good he’s looked so far. Aside from just getting first-team reps, he made the most of them. It seemed like he was making a play every day. 

Nate Sudfeld
This was really our first extended look at Sudfeld, but it’s far from our last. In fact, prepare yourselves to see a ton of the third-stringer this summer. Because while Carson Wentz recovers, Sudfeld is Nick Foles’ backup. And the Eagles need to treat Foles like a starter, which means fewer reps. Sudfeld didn’t come to the Eagles until after last cuts a year ago. This spring, it was easy to see why the Eagles like Sudfeld so much. He’s pretty athletic, can move his legs, and spent the few weeks dropping dimes all over the field. Eventually, Foles is going to move on and Sudfeld should be able to take the backup role. 

Bryce Treggs
Remember when Treggs-mania took over Philadelphia in 2016? Fans were clamoring for more of Treggs after he made that one big catch. Since then, that mania has certainly died down, but Treggs is off to a good start in 2018. He’s a much better player than he was a few years ago. To me, he made the best play we saw all spring, when he stretched out to catch one of those dimes from Sudfeld. Treggs doesn't have a great shot of making the Eagles’ roster, but he can put together some more good tape and maybe find another team. 

Nate Gerry 
In his second season out of Nebraska, Gerry has a real chance to win the weakside linebacker job. He’s battling Kamu Grugier-Hill and Corey Nelson for the spot left by Mychal Kendricks’ release. And Gerry is off to a good start. Having a year in the defense under his belt should certainly help him gain an edge on Nelson, but he still needs to make plays. In the spring, he did. He had a couple interceptions and seemed to read everything well. His background as a safety is clearly something the Eagles like for this position; the other two guys have coverage skills too. 

Josh Sweat
It’s a little tough for defensive ends to stand out in non-padded practices, but the rookie from Florida State did. The first thing to notice about Sweat is just how big he is. He’s listed at 6-5, 251. For now, he’s really long and skinny, but is quick and athletic too. It helped him going against someone as raw as Jordan Mailata, but even when he was facing others, Sweat still looked explosive. We’ll know more once the pads go on, but it seems like the Eagles might have a steal and somehow added even more depth on the D-line. 

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Watching Carson Wentz attack his rehab is nothing short of incredible

Watching Carson Wentz attack his rehab is nothing short of incredible

Carson Wentz has done some of his best work behind closed doors, far from any TV cameras or adoring fans, with just a trainer or two and maybe a few teammates in the room.

While Nick Foles has enjoyed the banquet circuit these last few months and all that comes with being Super Bowl MVP — national TV appearances, a book deal, life as a celebrity — the guy he replaced has had a pretty good offseason himself.

It’s just that nobody has seen it.

For Wentz to do what he did at these spring minicamps — compete in a variety of individual and team drills and look comfortable, fluid and confident six months after hobbling off the field at LA Coliseum with a towel covering his head — speaks volumes about this kid.

We know he’s a competitor on the field. We’ve all seen it. But rehabbing a shredded knee is different.

Throw a touchdown pass, and you instantaneously hear 66,000 fans roaring their approval.

Extend your range of motion by one degree and you get a trainer telling you, “Good. Now do it again 50 times.”

We can talk all day and night about how Wentz has attacked his rehab, but now we’re seeing the fruits of his labor. And it’s impressive.

It takes a certain type of motivation and determination to keep grinding away when nobody is cheering you on and the moments of true progress are fleeting and measured in millimeters.

We saw Wentz out there at practice taking five-step drops, firing dimes to Mike Wallace and Nelson Agholor in 7-on-7s and sprinting the length of the field under the midday sun.

What we never saw is what it took to get there.

It’s been about six months since Wentz tore his ACL and LCL.

That means probably about 150 days where Wentz has driven from his home in South Jersey to the NovaCare Complex at dawn and pushed himself through hour after hour of drills to regain his strength, his mobility, his speed, his endurance, his agility.

And then he’s back the next day to do it all over again.

We’re so used to athletes getting hurt and rehabbing it’s easy to forget just how grueling it is, and the fact that Wentz has made the progress he has since Dec. 10 is astonishing.

He’s taken that same ferocious competitive spirit we saw the first 29 games of his career and used it to fuel his rehab.

A month ago, there was no reason to think he’d be cleared to do anything at OTAs and there he was running, throwing, competing and looking every bit like the Carson Wentz we watched evolve into a legit MVP candidate the first 14 weeks of last season.

And if that doesn’t mean he’s ahead of schedule, I don’t know what does.

At this point, I’d be shocked if Wentz isn’t the Eagles’ opening day quarterback in 2018.

There’s always the possibility of a setback. Maybe he doesn’t get completely cleared quite in time to face the Falcons on Sept. 6. But the progress he’s made already has to make every Eagles fan feel confident and encouraged.  

Since he got hurt, Wentz has put the same remarkable level of energy and effort into rehabbing that he put into preparing to play football every Sunday.

Think about Wentz’s 2017 season.

Everything was going perfectly. The Eagles were on top of the football world. He was putting up numbers that were unprecedented for anybody other than Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Before Foles was on anybody’s mind, the Eagles were a Super Bowl contender.

And then disaster.

We’ve all seen Wentz when things are going well. He blossomed into a superstar in front of our eyes.

But you really learn the most about a person when things aren’t going well. When they face adversity. What are they really about? How will they respond?

Wentz has definitively answered those questions.

We didn’t see Wentz in those long, lonely, arduous rehab sessions, but we can see the results.

While Foles was out winning the Super Bowl and taking all the bows, Wentz was doing everything humanly possible to make sure he’s ready to lead the Eagles to another Super Bowl title this year.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m not betting against him.

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