The third in the series of our ultimate Eagles Training Camp Preview examines one of the Eagles most impressive units, the offensive line. If the last two offseason’s have proven anything, it’s that the front office were set on building from the ball out in order to support the growth of their new franchise quarterback. By solidifying the trenches, the Eagles have built in the shadow of Oakland, as opposed to that of Indianapolis. But even with such a strong starting lineup, there are still some questions that need answering and narratives worth watching.
Jason Peters, Matt Tobin, Dillon Gordon
While there isn’t a real position battle at left tackle, there are a few things worth watching. Halapoulivaati Vaitai is waiting on the wings on the other side of the field as a versatile tackle, backing up Lane Johnson. If Peters is to retire in the coming years, the Eagles need at least one more backup at tackle once Johnson either inherits the right-side, or the vacancy opens on the left.
Insert Matt Tobin and former LSU tackle, Dillon Gordon. Tobin has been a long-term backup for the Eagles ever since signing with them as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Having spent time both outside and inside at Iowa, Tobin’s versatility has seen him help the Eagles out of sticky situations on numerous occasions. With appearances in 12 total games and a start in 2015’s week 4 loss to Washington. His experience may be what guides a safe hand…while LSU’s Gordon provides a more interesting option.
After spending last year on the practice squad, Dillon Gordon has even seen potential reps at fullback…giving the Eagles a sense of overlooked aces. Now the practice squad can no longer be a home for Gordon, the pressure is on to see if he can battle his way past Tobin for an eventual backup role to Jason Peters.
Isaac Seumalo, Allen Barbre, Dallas Thomas
Arguably one of the most important positional battles on the roster, the fate of the starting left guard will likely be decided in Training Camp. While Allen Barbre’s veteran presence has carried him this far, it certainly felt as if there was a shift in momentum after Mandatory Minicamp.
Second year lineman, Isaac Seumalo, flashed plentifully when called upon in his rookie season. Selected in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Seumalo showed plenty of both athleticism and promise, helping wherever was asked of him by the Eagles coaching staff. It was abundantly clear that the former Oregon State product had starting potential written all over him, but is 2017 the year in which he is handed the Keys?
Barbre has been nothing but reliable since joining the Eagles, and he was crucial in keeping Wentz upright during his rookie campaign, but with the 34-year old not getting any younger, and a lingering cap hit hanging over his head…one has to wonder if the Eagles are thinking of handing the reins over to a much younger Isaac Seumalo.
After minicamp, it was Seumalo who had been able to snatch valuable reps with the ones away from Allen Barbre, making a very strong impact on those present. As Camp opens up, it will be interesting to see who gets those reps first…but we’ll touch on that later.
The third and final name to mention here is former Miami Dolphin, Dallas Thomas. The 6’5, 316 lbs guard started all sixteen games in 2015 for the Phins, before being cut after just one game in 2016. A ruthless approach by Adam Gase helped transform a faltering line…unfortunately, Thomas was a part of the group that simply provided no wiggle room for neither Tannehill nor Ajayi. Now in Philadelphia, Thomas is hoping to put that behind him and compete for a role in the Eagles OL depth…but with their standards only increasing as time goes on, the odds will certainly be against him.
Jason Kelce, Stefen Wisniewski, Tyler Orlosky
Aside from LG, it’s center that definitely carries the most intrigue for the Philadelphia Eagles. The long-term future of Jason Kelce has been murky for quite some time, but if it’s opening the run game that the team are striving for, then Kelce’s sheer athleticism could be more valuable than ever.
Stefen Wisniewski joined the Eagles last year in the hopes of earning a long-term deal, or cementing a starting role. He would go on to play in 54% of the team’s offensive snaps, proving to be instrumental in the success and continuity of the line. One year later, Wis would sign a three-year extension with the team..but his true role still remains a mystery. Having made it clear that he wanted a starting role, Wisniewski returns to the Eagles on paper, as the backup to Jason Kelce at Center..but is that where the story ends?
Wis spent a lot of time at left guard last season, and Doug Pederson has made it inherently clear that the battle for the starting LG spot is wide open. From Isaac Seumalo and Allen Barbre, to the resurgent Chance Warmack, there is an abundance of candidates..but could Wis be among them, or will he simply backup Kelce at center? Minicamp provided some insight to this, but it will be Training Camp where we really see how Wisniewski fits in the Eagles long-term plans.
What’s really interesting is that the wildcard in all of this could shake up the picture completely. Orlosky was signed as an undrafted free agent out of West Virginia this past offseason.
Orlosky started 41 games for West Virginia of the 49 he participated in. A finalist for the Rimington Trophy, the 6’3, 298 lbs center simply shined from start to finish as both a leader and an athletic offensive lineman. Entering the draft, many had Orlosky penned as the third ranked center of the class…but for whatever reason, his name would not be called on day 3 of the event hosted in the City he would later sign with.
The Eagles have an unquestioned captain and talent in Tyler Orlosky, who brings much of the same skillset possessed by Jason Kelce. But could he really throw a spanner in the works despite missing OTA’s due to an MCL injury? The Mountain may have gotten taller, but don’t write him off just yet.
Brandon Brooks, Chance Warmack, Darrell Greene
For a first season in Philadelphia, it’s safe to say Brandon Brooks ensured the Birds got their moneys worth after poaching him in free agency last year. After overcoming a battle with Anxiety and opening up to the sometimes ruthless media on his journey, the respect around the city for one of the hardest working players on the team, soared through the roof.
As he enters year two in Philly, Brooks is looking to build on a campaign that saw him emerge as an incredibly valuable interior guard. Opening up a zonal rushing attack and more importantly helping Carson Wentz on his feet, Brooks actually ranked as PFF’s 85th top player. There’s no doubting that he’s the man ready to lead the position in 2017.
Warmack on the other hand, may actually be one of the most interesting wildcards on the roster. A former first round pick, the former Titan earned his reputation under current Eagles OL Coach, Jeff Stoutland, during his Alabama days. Reuniting with his former mentor in Philadelphia, Warmack now strives for one last shot at shaking the “bust” label. But which position will he compete at?
The open competition is clearly at left guard, with Brooks already entrenched as the starter on the other side, but the secure role would be to try and win the backup battle behind the former Texan and await an opportunity. At Left Guard however, every role is up for grabs…and if Warmack can really shine and show his versatility, then there’s every chance he could spring a surprise and convince the Eagles to allow Seumalo to marinate one more year.
The final guard looking to compete at the position is Darrell Greene. Interestingly, Greene is also a graduate of San Diego State, acting as a vital cog in the offensive line for Donnel Pumphrey during a 2015 season that saw him rush for 1,653 yards. Interestingly, the running back depth COULD mean that Greene is once again blocking for his former teammate…potentially opening up his chances of hitting the ground running.
Lane Johnson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Aaron Neary (?)
Training Camp will be very interesting for one man in particular, franchise right tackle, Lane Johnson. After serving his second suspension since entering the league and fighting the decision deep into the heart of last year and beyond, Johnson has a newly placed chip on his shoulder that was clear in his final games of 2016. Still the bonafide starter, Johnson now enters a season that will very much be one of redemption. What happens behind him contrastingly is also relatively uneventful.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai will now have a full season to learn under one of the most prolific right tackles in the game, after a rookie year that defined the term “rollercoaster.” After being embarrassed by Ryan Kerrigan, Vaitai bounced back strong, and will now use Training Camp to learn against one of the most intimidating pass rushes in the league, something that can only strengthen his game.
Finally, Aaron Neary could *potentially* be in line for a shot at the third LT spot, depending on how the Eagles want to shake up the depth…but three players at each position is at least logical. While Neary is slightly smaller than most interior guards, his exceptional footwork and sheer athleticism is what landed the former Eastern Washington star a spot on the Eagles roster. Having played in 46 games during his time there, Neary is on the outside looking in…but with backups being oh-so valuable to the Eagles one year ago…he should be anything but overlooked.
Under the radar:
As noted in yesterday’s running back preview, the inclusion of LeGarrette Blount may force the Eagles into trying out some new things offensively, or shifting the shape of their running game slightly. What will be interesting to see, is if the Eagles begin to look for a new prototype along the trenches. Will blocking assignments and core focus shift ever so slightly in order to create a more up-the-gut style of rushing, as Kansas City once had with Jamaal Charles? If it does, what does that mean for guys like Jason Kelce? Whose grasp on the long-term starting role has become increasingly slippy over the last two years.
Things to watch:
The battle at LG
Expect this battle to last the duration of Training Camp, after the foundations were laid just a few weeks ago during OTA’s. Competition at every position seems to be the motto, and there may be none more intense on the offense than the battle at LG. Barbre’s cap hit may work against him, but it all depends on how Seumalo is able to perform during camp and preseason and if the team would feel comfortable inserting one more long-term option into their offensive line. Cutting ways with Barbre may force the Eagles out of a security blanket…but would their line be more productive with Seumalo as the starter?
The Eagles carried 17 offensive linemen on their 90-man roster last year, and 2017 is set to replicate that statistic. Newly signed Victor Salako and Tyler Orlovsky join Dillon Gordon, Darell Greene as some of the names who will be looking to use their large frames to push their way into the spotlight and earn the attention of the coaching staff. It’s no coincidence. The trenches are a focus and even the man at the bottom of that list is regarded as crucial when it comes to building a fortress for Wentz to rule. So if you’re attending an open practice or just following along the notes, don’t forget about the big guys up front.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports