Last season, the Philadelphia Eagles rolled out a very talented team. One that despite the revolving door of bad situations, was in contention to win just about every game they played. A bounce here, a mistake there, they were a team that was a bad call away from winning a few more games then they did. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, doesn’t exist in the NFL, and after it was all said and done, the birds were just another mediocre looking team.
When you look at the tape and really study it, you see a team that had obvious holes that were surrounded by talented players. The struggles of the defensive backs, combined with the rollercoaster wideout core and with a 1st year quarterback and head coach, simply gave fans a product that was expected. But the truth of it all was that the team had something brewing along the arguably the most important part of a team, the offensive line.
Anchored by a future Hall of Famer in OT Jason Peters, the Eagles offensive line enjoyed a promising season. One that started off on fire and would later be derailed by suspension and injury. Lets begin with the obvious issue, OT Lane Johnson’s suspension. Now I am not one to beat a dead horse, but I am one to point out that once Johnson had gone absent, the Eagles O-line suffered…and with it the offense as a whole.
Considered one of (if not) the best Right Tackles in the entire NFL, Johnson was set to have his first pro bowl season. While he was allowed to play, the birds went 5-1 and dominated defensive fronts in those ball games. This is not to say that it was his absence that destroyed the promise of what was a pretty good season up until he left, but they did feel the loss of their star OT.
After Johnson was suspended, it felt like QB Carson Wentz, who was going through his own trials as a rookie, was under duress with the lack of stability up front. At one point, Wentz stood behind what seemed like 50 different combinations of players which in turn which led to even more issues.
Now with all that said, there is a real positive to all of this. The suspension, injury, and rotation of players last season, led to some real experience for two rookie O-linemen. OG Isaac Seumalo, and OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai (Big V), were thrust into early playing time and although there were some problems to be had, the duo finished the season with a real positive outlook in their early careers.
Isaac, the more versatile of the two, saw himself playing all over the front line. The Oregon product played at both Guard spots, some tackle and was trained to play center. He showed in his short time out there, that he can play at a high level as he served as a true road grader at times, and served well in the passing game.
Coming into OTA’s this season, many wondered what his role would be, and it’s still up in the air to a point, but the positive step he took last year, has carried over into 2017. As the beginning of the new year kicked off, Seumalo saw his number being called as the starting left guard, collecting high praise right off the bat, from O-line coach Jeff Stoutland
“Isaac has been tough and has been since day one last year. He wants to be the best version of himself and it shows even more this season. He is out there working his butt off, he looks great.”
Big V saw his career kick off to a very rocky start as he was picked on in his first start against the Washington Redskins. The great news was that he bounced back in a great way, as he settled down and into his new role. The play of V, only got better as time went on, with every game showing more promise in both the run and pass game. The confidence was seemingly flowing.
I asked him what the biggest difference was from the first start up until now.
“I am way more comfortable. No excuses, the first game I ever started I struggled, I got my butt kicked. I will never forget it, but I never dwelled on it. I know I can play this game at a high level, I have all the confidence in myself, and in my coaches to get me where I need to be as a player. Now I know what my coaches are looking for in my play. I know what I need to do to get there and have hit the ground running. I want to be a starter for this team and I have the luck of having to of the best in the game to learn from (Jason Peters and Lane Johnson). The biggest difference is going out there and playing, just going out there and letting my ability take over.”
To go along with the promising young players, are a set of powerful tackles. Lane Johnson was talked about earlier, but to add to my point, when he is on the field, the birds are a much better team. OT Jason Peters has had an amazing career up until now and looks to add another year or so of dominant play. Coming off of arguably his worst season in his career, in 2015, the speculation was that Peters was nearing the end of his career. Needless to say he felt differently, and in 2016 the veteran came back with one hell of a season.
What isn’t talked about is his leadership to the young guys on this team. He has acted as a mentor for Lane Johnson, and has done so for all the players on the line. OG Brandon Brooks, had this to say about him.
“Jason, is the best, he is the most athletic tackle I have even seen play the game. His leadership cannot be matched, and honestly was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to sign here in Philly”
It will be interesting to see what Peters does for an encore this season, but if he plays half as good as he did in 2016, he could be looking at another pro-bowl season.
The other two spots on the starting line belong to OG Brandon Brooks and Pro-bowl center Jason Kelce. Brooks suffered with an anxiety issue which led to him missing time with the team. But when he was able to play, he was worth every cent paid his way. Both a dominant run blocker and a better then solid pass protector, Brooks, solidified the RG spot right away. His athleticism stood out to me the most as he got out into the secondary to block for an abundance of Eagles runners. His thick base and all around skill set leads me to believe he will be an all-pro this season.
Last but not least, Jason Kelce…probably the most scrutinized of all the linemen in Philadelphia. Kelce admitted to having a down year and promised to fix it. Despite the issues, the undersized center, possesses the tools to be the pro-bowl player he was a few seasons ago. With great athleticism, great speed, and a true command of the o-line, as he calls protections, it is hard to replace a player like that…especially one who has such budding chemistry with Carson Wentz.
If he and the rest of the players on this roster, including the solid depth that was signed (OG Chance Warmack and Stefen Wisniewski), and the depth that was already here (Allen Barbre), the birds could house one of the best lines in the league. Last year, they ranked in the top 10, even with all the issues, and this year they could really take another step and be as dominant as any line in the NFL. Only time will tell, but as it stands, the birds are in a great position up front,one that should have QB Carson Wentz smiling ear to ear.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports