The OL was a mess in 2012. Jason Peters missed the whole year. Jason Kelce selfishly tore his ACL so he could sit out the final 14 games and focus on grooming his seemingly infinite facial hair. Todd Herremans missed half the year. King Dunlap was King Dunlap. Danny Watkins flat-lined. Worst of all, Demetress Bell stayed healthy the whole year. Ugh.
So the Eagles must draft Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher or Chance Warmack, right?
While that certainly is possible and would make some sense, let’s think about things from a different perspective. The projected OL last spring was Peters – Mathis – Kelce – Watkins – Herremans. The Eagles believed that group, which had finished 2011 well, would be outstanding in 2012. That group can be the starting OL in 2013. And it still has the potential to be very good.
All reports indicate that Jason Peters is making a good recovery and should be good to go. Obviously we’ll all feel better when we see him in a uniform and on the field, even in just a mini-camp setting. Dave Spadaro did a real good interview with Jason Kelce for PE.com. Kelce sounds like he’s on schedule with his recovery. Herremans seems to be on schedule as well. He did have an infection that had to be dealt with, but that wasn’t related to his injury. The good news with all 3 players is that they got hurt early enough that they’ll have plenty of time to recover for the 2013 season. No one is under the gun time wise.
Danny Watkins was healthy in 2012, but had a bad season. He didn’t progress from his rookie year. He actually seemed to go backward at times. I think part of this is on the fact we passed the ball even more than usual. Danny is not a good pass protector. He also had a shaky relationship with Howard Mudd. Players like Peters, Kelce, and Mathis thrived with Mudd riding them relentlessly. It brought out the worst in Watkins.
Watkins is a tricky subject. It is easy to judge the results and then talk about what a bad player he is. He was an awkward 1st round pick and it almost seems like some fans and media members want him to fail. The truth is that Watkins is just 18 starts into his NFL career. It is too early to judge him as a final product. There is no denying that he’s headed in the wrong direction. Watkins might in fact turn out to be a bust. The point is that he’s still a player that can be salvaged. Having a new OL coach could help him a lot. Playing in a more balanced offense will help him a lot.
I don’t know if Watkins will turn things around, but I’ve seen plenty of OL who took time to figure things out. Jermane Mayberry was a mess early on in his career. Bobbie Williams didn’t get on the field for 2 years (stuck behind Mayberry who had become a Pro Bowl G by that point). When Williams did play after that, he was highly inconsistent. He was a good run blocker, but very sloppy pass blocker (sound familiar?). Evan Mathis struggled for years just to get on the field.
New OL coach Jeff Stoutland is keeping an open mind on Watkins. Check out these quotes:
“I think Danny Watkins is a winner,” Stoutland said. “He’s athletic, he’s explosive. I see a young man with a lot of talent.”
“I can’t wait to get my hands on Danny and start coaching him,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
I’m not trying to make too much of these comments. I do think they are important because it is a signal that Stoutland is keeping an open mind and will give Watkins a fair chance to turn things around. Stoutland is a tough OL coach, but it does sound like he’ll take a more positive approach, preferring to stress on what a player is doing right. Check out these comments from assistant OL coach Greg Austin:
“We’re going to be the most positive coaches on the field,” Austin said. “Jeff said, ‘I’ll never give up on one of our guys.’ I like that approach. I’m sure it will make guys play better.
“We’re going to put Danny in situations where he can be successful. There is no reason why he can’t be. He is a big, explosive guy. We want our linemen to play fast and physical. Danny can do that.”
If Watkins can be saved and the injured guys all come back, the OL could be a strength once again. What about depth?
Dennis Kelly showed he can be an adequate RT last year. I would hope he’ll be better this year. It is possible that Chip and Stoutland will like what they say from him and will move Herremans to RG and make Kelly the starting RT. There is value in keeping Kelly as a backup. Should Peters get hurt, you could try Kelly there for a game or two. You could also slide Herremans to LT and put Kelly in his place at RT. I think Kelly can develop into a starter in the future. We’ll have to wait and see where he is right now.
Guys like Ed Wang and Allen Barbre have limited experience. They could challenge for roster spots, but are not players to be counted on, even for backup roles. I have no idea what to make of Matt Kopa. He’s got a nice frame and has been on NFL practice squads for 3 years, but I’m not sure you can realistically expect him to challenge for even a backup role. At this point, I don’t think there is a true backup LT on the roster.
Julian Vandervelde is smaller than Chip Kelly generally likes his OL to be. That probably doesn’t bode well for him. Nate Menkin has the right size and athleticism. He spent last year learning about life in the NFL. I’m sure Chip and Stoutland will study the practice tapes to see what they think of Menkin. Could he challenge at RG or is he still a project? Matt Reynolds could be a G or RT. He’s not a top athlete, but could fit in Kelly’s system.
Dallas Reynolds showed last year that he’s not someone you want starting 14 games, but he did show that he can play in the NFL. Having him return as the backup C would be fine with me. Matt Tennant is also in the mix.
The goal of a coach and GM should be to maximize resources. The best way to fix the OL is to fix Danny Watkins and develop Dennis Kelly. That would give you a solid starting unit. Because of the age of Peters, Mathis, and Herremans, you do need to add some youth to the mix. Ideally, you would find someone in the 3rd round (give or take) that could be the primary backup LT. This would give you an insurance policy for Peters. It would let Dennis Kelly concentrate on playing on the right side. It would help with continuity.
It would also allow the team to spend pick #4 on an impact player that could help the team elsewhere. If the team feels like Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher are so good that they shouldn’t be passed up, go get ‘em. I’m guessing there will be another player they’ll have targeted.
It is important to understand that Reid needed elite OT play because of his system. Compare that to the Saints. They have a QB who understands how to get the ball out quickly. They run the ball a lot. And they have a LT from Towson that they drafted in the middle rounds. Kelly will run the ball more. He will put an emphasis on the QB getting the ball out quickly. There will be less pressure on the OTs simply by the change in systems and style of play.
The Eagles need to find LT help, but that doesn’t mean they have to spend pick #4. They could go for someone in the 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th round. Joeckel, Fisher, and Lane Johnson are the big 3, but not the only LTs in this class. I’ll cover other LT options in a separate post in the near future.
No matter what happens, at least the Demtress Bell era is over.