Saturday, September 10, 2011
Eagles won't get cute with O-line
By Dan Graziano
So here was Evan Mathis, free-agent guard, looking for work last month in the middle of the most frenzied free-agent market in NFL history. He'd told his agent he wanted to go somewhere and be a starter. His agent told him the Philadelphia Eagles were interested. Mathis ran through their linemen in his head and was interested but not convinced.
"Would you please have Howie Roseman call me?" Mathis asked his agent.
A short time later, Mathis told me in a phone interview Thursday, the Eagles general manager did call him. And this was the message he delivered about the team's plans for the offensive line:
Evan Mathis is slated to be the starting left guard against the St. Louis Rams Sunday.
"He said, 'We're ready to win, we're going to be selfish about it and we're going to play the best five guys'," Mathis said. "That was enough for me. I came in with the intention of proving I was one of the best five."
Mathis knew the Eagles were planning to start first-round pick Danny Watkins at right guard, that injuries had left things unsettled at right tackle and that either he or the starting left guard, Todd Herremans, could move to tackle if need be. The Eagles were a team, Roseman had told him, that wasn't going to worry about people's feelings. Just because someone is the first-round pick doesn't automatically means he plays. It's Super Bowl or bust for the Eagles this season, and that's why the line has undergone so many changes already before a game has even been played.
Contrary to the early-August plans, it now appears as though Mathis will start at left guard and Herremans at right tackle in Sunday's season opener in St. Louis. It also appears as though sixth-round pick Jason Kelce will start at center and first-round pick Watkins will not start at guard, having been demoted this week in favor of newly signed veteran Kyle DeVan. Watkins' demotion is the clearest evidence yet that what Roseman told Mathis was true.
"I think a lot has been expected of Danny because he's the first-round draft pick," Mathis said. "But I see a guy who's built to play football, a very smart guy who's tough and physical, and I think Danny's going to be fine."
But it appears he'll need more time before he can crack this starting line, which is charged with the tasks of learning the aggressive new blocking schemes taught by new line coach Howard Mudd and protecting their slippery and mobile quarterback, Michael Vick.
"Whoever's back there, you're not really thinking about who it is. You just have to keep him clean," Mathis said. "The way he plays, sometimes it might just mean we have to roll out with him if he's doing that. Howard's scheme might work well with a quarterback like Michael Vick."
That's because Mudd picks quick, athletic linemen and teaches them to get out, push forward and block aggressively -- a scheme designed to dramatically increase the room in which the players behind the line have to work.
"Some of his techniques I've seen a lot of other places and seen a lot of other coaches use them, but not as much as Howard," Mathis said. "It's much more aggressive, but it works. The things he does work. And once you've done it enough times, you realize why it works."
It's got to work quickly, but Mathis isn't as worried as some on the outside are. I asked him if he thinks Kelce is going to be continuing his learning process during the regular season, and he said not as much as you'd think since there's been so much more focus on teaching and learning in this training camp than there usually is. Plus, he really likes Kelce.
"Very smart kid, very naturally talented, a lot of quickness," Mathis said when asked for the Kelce scouting report. "I think he came into college as a linebacker, and I think if he dropped 30 pounds, he could be a linebacker again. Plus, he's a smart, witty guy. Centers are usually like that. Centers are usually the only ones I think can compete with me in Words With Friends."
Nice to know they're all coming together. Maybe Sunday will bring about a more successful edition of "Block With Friends" than we saw from the Eagles' offensive line in the preseason.