Are the Eagles headed for another mid-season battle at right guard?

NFL: SEP 13 Eagles at Washington Football Team
LANDOVER, MD – SEPTEMBER 13: Philadelphia Eagles guard Nate Herbig (67) blocks Washington Football Team defensive tackle Daron Payne (94) during the game between the Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles on September 13, 2020 at FedEx Field in Landover, MD. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

Of every wrong turn the Eagles took in Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Washington Football Team, there’s at least one decision that’s left a lot of people still trying to work out whether this road will leave to stability or the total opposite. Many expected Matt Pryor to be the team’s starting right guard in week one in place of the injured Brandon Brooks. Instead, it was Stanford’s Nate Herbig who played in 100% of snaps.

It wasn’t a great day for the offensive line. Battered and bruised, they surrendered 14 QB hits while Wentz was sacked 8 times – the most in his career. The Eagles were coming up against one of the league’s most dangerous defensive lines, but it doesn’t take away from the abundance of errors. Typically, you’d point the finger at the emergency stand-in, but he held his own.

Allowing a single sack, a single hurry, and a pair of pressures, Herbig graded out at 60.4 according to Pro Football Focus. That’s not perfect, but it’s not terrible. He excelled in pass-protection, grading out at 77.4, while his 49.3 run-blocking grade left a lot to be desired. It’s easy to forget, however, that Herbig had played in just 3 NFL snaps prior to this moment.

Herbig is still just 22-years-old. In fact, the former UDFA is the third-youngest player on the team. Somewhere along the line, while Matt Pryor was dancing at left tackle, he emerged as a candidate to take on a leading role if necessary. He validated Pederson’s decision to start him over the more combat-tested Pryor with his first taste of starting action.

“I thought Nate did well.” The Eagles Head Coach said on Monday. “Wasn’t perfect, but for his first start, he’s a smart guy, and he graded well. As of right now as we move forward, we’re going to continue to work him in there at right guard, and I think he’ll get more and more comfortable the more reps he gets in there, and you know, works with [C Jason] Kelce more and so again, it wasn’t perfect, but really felt comfortable coming away with his performance.”

It looked as though the Eagles may have found yet another project lineman to get excited about…that was until they signed Jamon Brown to their active roster.

Brown joined Atlanta in 2019 after spending seven weeks as a starter for the New York Giants. That would be a trend that followed suit when Chris Lindstrom suffered an injury in week one. Brown then started nine games at right guard for the Falcons. He amassed a PFF grade of 53.2 (not ideal), but didn’t give up a single sack. Expected to win the starting LG role in camp, Brown was unable to do so after sustaining a concussion and missing the majority of camp. The Bears promptly signed him to their practice squad and the Eagles promptly signed him off of it.

This move is not only one clearly made with depth in mind, but the very top of that chart. Brown’s starting experience could be invaluable to a line misfiring at every opportunity. The pressure is back onto the shoulders of Herbig. It was a sentiment Pederson echoed on Wednesday.

“And in Nate’s case, listen, it’s Nate’s job right now and he has to do everything he can to keep that.”

With Matt Pryor waiting in the wings, one has to wonder what this means for his standing within the team. If Nate Herbig has leapfrogged the TCU product, will Jamon Brown come in and leap over them both?

It’s not the first time the Eagles have had a mid-season battle at guard. In 2017, it took Stefen Wisniewski a few weeks to put his clamps on a starting role. Maybe history will repeat itself on the other side this season. But can 22-year-old Herbig fend off yet more competition?

To do so, he had to face Aaron Donald after surviving a trial by fire. It’s going to be a matchup to circle as the Rams defense continues to evolve into one of mystery. If Herbig can bring sound fundamentals to the table once more, he should have a good shot at convincing Pederson to allow him to ride that wave until Brandon Brooks returns. If not, a pair of more experienced young linemen are looming.

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire