The silver lining in the Eagles’ never ending game of offensive line roulette

PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Guard Nate Herbig (67) blocks in the second half during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles on September 27, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The Eagles are set to field their tenth offensive line combination in eleven games in a season that has been absolutely disastrous on all fronts. Injuries have ravaged the offensive line for what feels like the millionth year in a row, and with Lane Johnson now out for the season, we’re set to see another attempt at putting the bandaid over a huge leak.

The Eagles have given up more sacks than any other team in the NFL (40) and are averaging 4 allowed per game. Carson Wentz, as bad as he’s been, has hardly had a fortress to throw behind this season and it shows. But if there’s ever a silver lining to take, it’s the development of depth players.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai was once a pivotal piece of the Eagles’ offensive front. The TCU product played in 476 snaps last year, grading out at 72.8 per PFF (25th out of 87 tackles). After playing in 1,681 snaps since being drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 Draft (playing in at least 31% of snaps in each season) and never growing into a full-time starter, Vaitai earned himself a tasty $50M contract in Detroit. It’s one he’s ultimately struggled to live up to, but the point stands.

With Vaitai gone, Dillard injured, Peters being Peters, and injuries across the board, the speed on the conveyor belt has picked up considerably.

Former TCU teammate of Vaitai, Matt Pryor, will start at right tackle this weekend in place of the injured Lane Johnson. Pryor has seen playing time at both guard and tackle already this year and has started the last 3 games. He’s allowed 2 sacks and given up 3 penalties on 479 snaps.

Pryor may not be perfect, but this is invaluable in terms of both experience and securing a long-term home on a team that invests heavily in offensive line starters, leaving a very clear ceiling for depth players.

On Saturday, Doug Pederson spoke about Pryor and the other young guys all benefitting from the exposure to regular season snaps.

He is playing right tackle. Again, I think guys like him, guys like Mailata, I think of [G] Nate Herbig, I think of the guys we’ve had to move in and out of different positions, they’ve handled it well. 

It’s hard to take a guy that’s playing, say, guard all week, then on Friday, Saturday or even game day you got to go, ‘You got to go play tackle.’ He did it in the game last week. He went from guard to tackle. Now he’s gotten all the tackle reps this week. He’s settled in. He’s comfortable there. 

I don’t foresee any real issues, mentally or physically, from him. He’s had a good week.

Jordan Mailata may be the best example of all. The former Rugby star who was drafted in the seventh-round three years ago had a torrid start to the Summer. He ended up being one of the team’s most pleasant surprises, not only filling in for an injured Jason Peters admirably but playing extremely well all things considered. The Aussie held his own against top pass-rushing talent in losses to Batimore and Pittsburgh and had a great game against San Francisco. He’ll get another shot to show his potential this weekend as the starting LT against Seattle.

Nate Herbig could easily be mentioned in that same conversation. He played in every single snap during the opening half of the season, giving up only two sacks when splitting reps between each guard spot. Seeing him benched for Opeta (who today landed on IR) didn’t make any sense whatsoever, but the good news is that Herbig should be back in action.

Rookie tackle Jack Driscoll has also been exposed to significant action. In 11 games so far and without any preseason experience to his name, the Auburn product has allowed two sacks and three pressures in 404 snaps.

The Eagles might be battered and bruised on the offensive front, but this season has turned into an expanded preseason for young players, who get valuable opportunities to go up against proven NFL talents and hone their craft. It’s the way of the world and would eb the same for any team, but for a franchise that puts so much stock in the development of its offensive line, knowing that some of the youngest, rawest prospects can at least keep their head above water and are getting better as time goes on, has to be seen as a silver lining.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire