Fixing The OL From Within

Posted: February 17th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 39 Comments »

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.”

and

“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.

_


  • livingonapear

    Getting Herremans back is so key just because of his versatility. Once he’s back, Kelly is an option that you can activate if he shows a big leap from last year. With Herremans back the absolute need for a backup LT is mitigated, as is the need to live and die with Danny Watkins.

    • ICDogg

      I have to wonder, though, how much Herremans has left in the tank.

  • Adam

    As an Eagles fan and a Canadian I’d love to see Stoutland make something out of Watkins. I think he can do well in a different system, I think a fresh start will do him wonders. I mean the guy did block for RG3, he’s definitely capable.

  • Iskar36

    I’d love for Watkins to be able to turn things around and prove to be a reliable guard, but I think the risk is way to high to go into the season hoping that the coaches can fix Watkins. Personally, I think you need to approach the season with the idea that you have 4 starters, with Herremans capable of playing RT or RG. Thus, in FA or the draft you have to bring in a guy who can be a starter.

    On top of that, Peters and Mathis are already 31. Herremans turns 31 in October. Finally even if you hope Watkins will turn things around, he will turn 29 in Novemeber. To me, with the line aging and most of them coming off serious injuries, I would have no problem with the Eagles targeting an OT with our first pick if they determine he is worth the 4th pick (or if they trade back and then draft him). I think it fits a need, helps the team both now and in the future (either the guy can stay at RT or he can eventually move out to LT, plus serves as a backup if Peters struggles coming back from injury), and from everything I have read it doesn’t sound like we would have to reach for a need if we can get Joeckel (or we can try and trade back a few spots and grab Fisher).

    • TommyLawlor

      The coaches won’t count on Danny. They must have contingency plans.

  • http://twitter.com/daniel_suraci Daniel

    For the heck of it, I looked at what other guards were drafted in 2011. Watkins, Rodney Hudson, John Moffit, Will Rackley, Clint Boiling, David Arkin, Julian Vandervelde…

    Have any of those guys been playing well? I think half of them have been on IR and one is batman: http://thegazette.com/2012/07/19/former-iowa-offensive-lineman-julian-vandervelde-is-batman/#ooid=N4MjlmNTrGnGIB99_F6zZBGt8Dr6D5Lv

    Was going for a guard there a reach for a need?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=565087931 Jeppe Elmelund van Ee

      I think that that’s a part of the problem with the Watkins pick. The FO realized that there were absolutely no depth at the guard position in the draft, and feared loosing out on Watkins ment staying with Nick Cole for another year.

    • Cvd52

      i think Moffit plays well for the seahawks, but i think thats it

  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.n.richwine Daniel Norman Richwine

    I like how you stress how important the tackle position is in Reid system, and how that ain’t always the case. I wonder if you can detail you impression of the relative importance of different positions are to Andy’s system (which most of us have followed so long we’ve forgotten what else might be out there) and Chip’s system (which will involve a lot of guesswork since he only has college experience.)

    I don’t know anything about Oregon’s offense, but Chip hired the OL coach from Bama, and I do know a bit about that offense. I know Bama likes their guards to fire out to the second level more than most if allowed to be the defensive scheme, and I wonder if the guard position will become more critical to the team than in the past, and if the new scheme can help Watkins as much as you think it might.

    What other players/positions might we have to reconsider under Chip?

    • TommyLawlor

      Bama ran the same primary running plays as Oregon. Diff is that Bama did it from the I-form while Oregon was spreading teams out.

  • pjxii

    “Worst of all, Demetress Bell stayed healthy the whole year. Ugh.”

    This gets my vote for best line of the year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=565087931 Jeppe Elmelund van Ee

    Tommy,

    do the coaches have time to get their hands on the players before the draft, or do they solely rely on gamefilm when they study them? I ask because if they don’t feel comfortable with Watkins (at least as an above average starter) I think it could be wise to draft Fisher, and move Herremans to guard where we know he can play well. Fisher also seems to have some nastiness to his game, that I like out of an RT.

    I agree that OT maybe shouldn’t be our first pick if you draft for need, where NT, OLB and S comes to mind. However, didn’t we learn the hard way with Watkins, Jarrett etc. that drafting BPA is the way to go?
    If we can trust Howie, and Fisher is atop the board when we pick, shouldn’t he be the guy?

    As a side note, I hope everyone read that article quoting an ex Cowboy scout, that said they missed out on LeSean McCoy because they deveated from their board in the 2009 draft. Thank you Jerry Jones!

    • TommyLawlor

      There will be a pre-draft mini-camp. There is some classroom work that can be done. Still, the coaches will be flying somewhat blind in regard to the players. They won’t have had extensive time to work with them.

      If we have an OT rated highest, then take him. I’m not saying we can’t do it.

      Watkins, Jarrett bad examples since they were in the 2011 draft and that year was complex due to the lockout and FA coming after the draft.

  • austinfan

    If Peters is healthy you have more options.

    I don’t think Herremans is a RT anymore, he struggled last year and is getting dinged on a regular basis. Kelly should be better with a year in the weight room.

    If you’re worried about OT depth, there are plenty of projects in the 3rd and 4th rounds this year with starter potential once they’re coached up:

    Menelik Watson
    Terron Armstead
    Chris Faulk
    Reid Fragel
    David Quessenberry

    There are also going to be some solid OGs in the middle rounds.
    Given the needs on defense, the only way an OL should be drafted in the first 100 is if they can’t trade down and he’s clearly the BPA.

    • T_S_O_P

      When you say ‘anymore’, do you mean this season? To replace Todd this year at RT would mean going with Kelly, at FA or a draft pick. I like your list of mid-round lineman, but not to start over Todd.

      • austinfan

        I have no problem with Kelly over Herremans, you have to project Kelly into his second season as a non redshirt (year younger) college player. He’ll add strength because he’s young enough to fill out, and he showed he can play RT. In Kelly’s system, he won’t have to hold blocks as long. And the TE can help him on some plays by chipping the DE. The only question is whether he has the foot speed for Chip’s zone blocking scheme.

        Comes down to limited resources, unless you sign a bunch of guys in FA on the DL, you need a “5″, a NT, a SLB, and 2-3 DBs. I’d point out that in Foles’ last 5 games they scored 22 ppg and gained 350 yards, and that was with 4 OL hurt, Djax out, McCoy missing half those games. So defense is a far bigger priority right now.

        • T_S_O_P

          If he beats him out; then me either. If Todd beats Kelly out then all is still good. We agree for different reasons on a mid round lineman. I like Menelik because he is the bastard son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. I like the guy from Arkansas Pine Buff because he seems to be a physical freak.

          Are you lookign for long and lean at SLB and at the 5?

  • SleepingDuck

    “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?”

    I thought he was being developed to be the RZ target.

    • TommyLawlor

      That sounds like something those idiots on the Helmet2Helmet Show would say.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=565087931 Jeppe Elmelund van Ee

    Adam Caplan twitted earlier that the Eagles and Packers both tried to trade up for Russel Wilson last year. Can you confirm that Tommy, and do you know which team(s) they called regarding a trade?
    I love that we get these small nuggets, even though we can only use it for fun. If you have any of these small draftrumors lying around, and maybe think it’s outdated and not worth sharing – please do. I absolutely love reading things like that!

    • TommyLawlor

      I know Andy loved Wilson, but don’t know anything about the Eagles trying to move up to get him.

  • SteveH

    My current dream scenario for the draft: Trade back and take Chance Warmack, take Cyprien with our 2nd. Thats all I got, the rest of the rounds we can just throw all the names out of a hat and pick them as they come.

  • http://twitter.com/PhiIs_Goodman Phils Goodman

    I would be a lot more comfortable with at least one aggressive move to upgrade that unit. They are all a year older now and several surgeries more fragile. Oline is the one place that it’s never too early to start reloading. You can certainly get screwed if you wait too long to get started (see Cowboys and Giants in recent years).

    If the Eagles top targets are gone, I wouldn’t be disappointed to see the Eagles trade down to #10 (and net the #40 selection from the Titans) and get either Fisher or Lane Johnson.

    Lane is growing on me. He has experience at right tackle, so he would not be learning an entirely new position from scratch at the highest level of play.

    Another option that would upgrade the line is aggressively trading down for Jonathan Cooper (although I am not a fan of 1st round guard selections, the extra picks could make up for it). Cooper is an excellent move blocker who reminds me of the player Evan Mathis has become. He looks like a potential ZBS technician and has a similarly athletic physique as Mathis. The more he slides, the more I would want him because I am a big fan of the way he plays. And there is always a chance for a guard to slide because of position.

    • D3FB

      I’m a big Cooper fan. I agree that I don’t necessarily think that value of a guard matches that of a first round pick, however I personally grade out Cooper higher than Warmack.

    • D3Keith

      Oline is the one place that it’s never too early to start reloading.

      I agree, it’s not sexy but it’s smart. And given what we think Kelly wants to do, and with one running back in his prime and another flashing loads of potential, I can’t see how it could be a bad pick.

      I think the top-flight OL tend to pan out more than the DTs, DEs and OLBs, who seem so boom or bust.

  • ICDogg

    I think considering the seriousness of the Peters injury, the age of Herremans, and to a lesser extent the failure of Watkins to develop as expected thus far call for some serious moves to reload. I think if all goes well, we have something with this line as it is now, but as we know, all doesn’t usually go well.

    • D3Keith

      I wish I could rec this post more than once.

    • Arby1

      Agreed.

  • livingonapear

    So, uh, Ryan Harris is available, I think.

    • A_T_G

      Is he? I thought he and Bell started up a business installing turnstiles that don’t bang you in the thigh as you go past.

      • TommyLawlor

        You’re mean.

  • shah8

    Drew Brees? NO is as deep pass-happy as Reid tends to be. They just have vastly better OL play, even without Carl Nicks. OTOH, the Saints didn’t do that well due to the general clampdown on deep passing that started sometimes around late in the 2011 season. All of the pass-happy teams were lowered in effectiveness this past year (aside from NE, which features a short and midrange attack).

    As far as this post goes…I’m really just not inclined to forgive Watkins, and I would be far more comfortable with one more top end talent on the line. What I really want is someone who’s both strong and fast. Remembering that OT from the Falcons when Vick was there, and King Dunlap now, super-tall OTs are not really my thing, and they better be technically proficient, so I’m not sure how I’d feel about Fisher. Honestly, if we go OL in the first, I think it’s Chance Warmack or bust. I don’t think Joekel is genuinely all that top-end. I wouldn’t mind, having seen the good Matt Kalil has done in Minn. If it not Warmack, then the absolute key issue here is that we sucked at closing in on the QB. We were getting pressure, but no sacks. This put a tremendous strain on the backfield. I think this will go either a pass rushing DT/Jarvis Jones, a drop in the draft for someone like Warmack or some other defensive talent. Alec Ogletree is falling, and doesn’t he look like a nice SS, folks? Move up from the second, somehow?

  • Anders

    Also the OL should be much better next year because all the projected starters are much better run blockers than pass blockers.

  • http://twitter.com/RIPworms RIP Worms

    Buffalo used to have a decent left tackle named Demetrius Bell. Was he any relationship to Demetress Bell? Maybe we should see if that guy is available.

    • TommyLawlor

      I’m sending a squad of goons to your house right now to discuss this situation with you.

  • Cvd52

    does anyone know what peters is tipping the scale at these days? is this something th eagles would monitor so he doesnt blow up?
    peters never struck me as a guy who would be the best at battling back from a tough injury. could be completely wrong about that tho

    • http://twitter.com/RIPworms RIP Worms

      Good point. Peters always came across as completely uninterested in the game of football. Except for when, you know, he was utterly dominating his competition.

      Maybe that’s just his personality, though. He seems like a very private person.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dmcgill3 Dan McGill

    Other than possibly nose tackle, I don’t think any position on the defense could be reliably classified as more of a “need” than on this team than OT. If I were coming in as a new coach with a new staff and I looked at the defense, I would see a great deal of mixing and matching of different schemes that has resulted in a general defensive mess over the last few years. I’d also see quite a few talented veteran players that haven’t lived up to their potential, and quite a few talented younger players who haven’t lived up to their potential.

    If it were me, I’d keep pretty much everyone on that side of the ball. Give them all a full year in my new scheme with a unified and cohesive approach and see who sinks and who rises to the challenge. Poor effort and lack of coordination could be the result of poor leadership, and can be fixed.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dmcgill3 Dan McGill

      At the end of next year I think the coaching staff will be in a much better position to accurately determine their personnel needs on the defensive side of the ball. In the meantime, I’d look at LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown and crap sunshine just thinking about what they could do behind a lights-out offensive line and a gameplan that’s committed to running the football.