NFL Nation: Evan Mathis

Three takeaways from ESPN's #NFLRank reveal of the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the league. Today: 51-60.

1. Quick rise: Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu made quite an impression on #NFLRank voters during his injury-shortened rookie season. After 11 NFL starts, and while still recovering from a major knee injury, Mathieu ranks as the No. 58 defensive player and eighth among safeties. Mathieu certainly spent plenty of time around the ball last season, totaling 68 tackles, two interceptions and nine defensed passes in 751 snaps. Without the injury, he would be an obvious Pro Bowl candidate for 2014. With it, the most reasonable hope is that he will return to his 2013 form by the end of the season. First impressions are important, however, and Mathieu made a great one.

2. Newton vs. Ryan: Who would you pick as your quarterback? The Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton or the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan? By a small three-spot margin, #NFLRank voters chose Newton. There is no doubt that Newton is younger (by four years) and has a more diverse skill set. But as quarterbacks age, their success depends more on pocket passing. Newton's running ability has added 2,032 yards and 28 touchdowns to the Panthers' offense over the past three seasons, but his production on the ground has decreased each year and it's difficult to imagine it as a substantial portion of his game five years from now. That brings the debate between him and Ryan to passing. Ryan has always been a more efficient passer than Newton, and his career Total Quarterback Rating (68.4) is substantially better than Newton's (55.5) even though it includes rushing yards. With all due respect to voters, Newton isn't a sure bet over Ryan in 2014, let alone in the long-term.

3. Pity the guards: Here we are, just halfway through the #NFLRank reveal, and already the No. 3 and No. 4 guards are off the boards. That's right. Of the top 50 offensive players named in this project, only two are guards. You will have to wait for their names, but we do know that the San Francisco 49ers' Mike Iupati is at No. 53 and the Philadelphia Eagles' Evan Mathis is No. 59. Alex Boone, Iupati's fellow guard with the 49ers and a contract holdout, isn't among the top 100. Guards are increasingly more important in an era of quick passes and short(er) quarterbacks, and five were selected in the first rounds of the 2012 and 2013 drafts. But it will take a while for that transition to make its way to the general public.

On Evan Mathis and OL continuity

March, 27, 2014
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You never like to say this, because egos and money, etc..., but this Evan Mathis situation with the Philadelphia Eagles feels like one that should blow over. According to this account from Jeff McLane, it's all common and understandable stuff. The guy on his left got a big new contract, the guy on his right got a big new contract, so Mathis goes to the team and asks if maybe he could get a big new contract, too. Team says no, we like your contract and you should, too, but why don't you go out and see if there's another team who would take you and maybe give you that contract? Research reveals that said team does not exist, and Mathis ends up back where he started. No harm, no foul, as Eagles coach Chip Kelly indicates in Jeff's story:
"I think that's just the nature of what our league is like," Kelly said about Mathis' contract demands. "In professional sports, there is a short amount of time that guys have to play this game, and they're trying to get what they can, and I certainly understand where they're coming from."
Mathis
So yeah, good. It's nice when everyone understands each other. Too bad for Mathis that he can't get his raise, but the market bears what it bears, and left guard isn't left tackle or center, so Jason Peters and Jason Kelce get taken care of and Mathis doesn't. Way of the world. The Eagles can argue that Mathis is replaceable, and they can use Mathis' own story to do it. He was an afterthought depth signing in 2011 after they brought their headline-making spending spree to a simmer. He surprised them by winning a starting spot in camp.

But he's also taken full advantage of his opportunity. He's played at a Pro Bowl level. He was the only member of the offensive line that managed to stay healthy during the 2012 meltdown season. And if you buy the old theory on continuity as vital to offensive line success, you have to think Mathis matters. Yes, Peters is a freak athlete and Kelce is a beast at center, but is it safe to assume you could replace the guy between them with Allen Barbre and see no drop-off? Possible, sure, but not safe to assume.

The Eagles pay Mathis well and would seem to have no incentive to adjust his contract two years in. Telling him he was free to seek a trade might not be a sign they want him gone, but rather a sign of their confidence that they're already paying him as much as or more than the market thinks he's worth. He's a great player who has the misfortune to play a position that doesn't get valued as highly as other positions do. He's also a smart guy, and the Eagles likely figured he'd understand this whole kerfuffle for what it is. Assuming that's the case, all goes on as before.

But the idea that they might have been willing to let Mathis walk out the door is enough to at least give you pause. After what the Eagles went through on the offensive line in 2012, and after having the whole line healthy and clicking together at a high level in 2013, this is a team that should appreciate the value of keeping things together up front. I'm not saying they need to bend over backwards to make Mathis happy. What I am saying is that the Eagles have a very good thing going with this offensive line right now, and I don't think I'd mess wit it.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Multiple media reports have indicated that the Philadelphia Eagles have given Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis permission to seek a trade, although the situation hardly seemed to faze coach Chip Kelly during the NFC coaches breakfast Wednesday.

Mathis
Mathis, who enters the third season of a five-year, $25 million contract he signed in 2012, reportedly is seeking a new deal. The Eagles responded by giving the 32-year-old Mathis the opportunity to shop himself in a trade, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, among others.

The story broke Wednesday morning before Kelly's media breakfast, but in a sign of how DeSean Jackson's future with the team is still swirling, it didn't come up for the first 30 minutes. For a moment, it seemed to catch Kelly off guard.

"What's the report with Evan Mathis?" Kelly asked, when a reporter questioned him about the breaking news on Mathis.

When told that the report was that the Eagles are open to trading him, and then when asked if he was worried about Mathis or any player in that situation buying into the program, Kelly didn't break stride.

"Generally maybe, but do I worry about Evan? No," he said. "Evan, when you talk about a go-to-work-lunchpail mentality, that's Evan Mathis. I don't worry about Evan in that sense. ...

"At the end of the day, when you come to work, if anything is a distraction to you, then you're not being the best player you can be. What you can control is how you show up every day, what your attitude is when you're in the meeting rooms, what your attitude is when you're on the practice field, what your attitude is when you're in the weight room.

"When you talk about Evan specifically, I don't worry about that. Evan has been, since Day 1 since I got here, has been just outstanding, whether it's in the meeting room, in the weight room, on the practice field -- he practiced every day. You can look it up, he may have played the most snaps in the NFL last year."

Kelly continued: "Again, I don't think there's one guy in the league that would say, ‘I'm good [financially].' But they don't bring that to work."

After those remarks, Kelly said that he personally hasn't spoken with Mathis about the issue.
The Denver Broncos have won the offseason title and free agency is not even four days old.

John Elway signed safety T.J. Ward to a four-year, $23 million deal that guarantees him $14 million. He stole cornerback Aqib Talib away from the New England Patriots with a six-year, $57 million deal that guarantees him $26 million. Then he thanked the Dallas Cowboys for their cap woes and unwillingness to pay DeMarcus Ware and signed Ware to a three-year, $30 million deal that includes $20 million guaranteed.

Ware will make $250,000 more with the Broncos this year than he would have with the Cowboys.

Add those three to an offense that will still put up points even if Eric Decker leaves and Denver should be viewed as the favorites in the AFC.

In fact, they might look like a "Dream …" Sorry. Got something stuck in my throat. "A Dream …" Man, there it goes again.

One more time: A dream team.

Could the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles serve as a reminder that a "dream team" doesn’t mean a Super Bowl team?

To refresh: The Eagles loaded up with Jason Babin (five years, $28 million), Cullen Jenkins (five years, $25 million) and Nnamdi Asomugha (five years, $60 million). They traded Kevin Kolb and got Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in return. They added serviceable pieces in Ronnie Brown and Evan Mathis turned out to be a steal.

Then they signed Vince Young, who came up with the dream-team tag.

And Philadelphia finished 8-8.

The Broncos have Peyton Manning, so it’s hard to see an 8-8 season. But what happens if Manning gets hurt?

It was an eventful Pro Bowl for the Philadelphia Eagles' representatives.

Quarterback Nick Foles was named offensive MVP after completing 7 of 10 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown.

Foles threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron in the fourth quarter. Foles entered a 14-14 game just before the fourth quarter. On his second full drive, he found Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown deep to get “Team Sanders” into the red zone. He hit Cameron on a corner route to make it 21-14.

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson caught the first touchdown of the game from Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck got the ball back on a flea flicker and threw a jump ball into the end zone. Jackson was there with two defenders. He tore the ball from the grasp of Tennessee Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner for the 36-yard score.

It wasn't all good news. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher in 2013, left the game in the second half with what was announced as an ankle injury. He didn't return to the game, but that didn't mean much considering the nature of the game. The nature and severity of the injury were not immediately known.

Before getting hurt, McCoy lost a fumble. Jackson had a ball taken out of his hands for an interception.

Eagles left guard Evan Mathis got plenty of playing time for Team Rice along with McCoy. Mathis played both guard positions, and helped Carolina running back Mike Tolbert win the game -- 22-21 -- with a 2-point conversion with 41 seconds left in the game.

Perhaps Mathis' finest moment was on Twitter. With Foles in the game, Mathis tweeted, “Throw a pick, @NFoles_9! Is that weird? #Pro Bowl #TeamRice.”

After Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker missed a 67-yard field-goal attempt on the game's final play, the NBC cameras caught Foles talking with Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

“We've got to get a picture with you, me and Justin,” Foles said.

Foles, Brees and Tucker are all graduates of Westlake High School in Austin, Texas.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles involved in Wednesday’s first (and unfortunate) Pro Bowl draft provided good examples of why the novelty act should also be the last (unfortunate) Pro Bowl draft.

It might be OK to turn an invitation to the league’s all-star game into an insult for the sake of good television. But there was nothing fun or entertaining about every player after the first 15 minutes stalking out of the holding area and complaining about not being chosen sooner.

McCoy
By the time Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson was taken by Deion Sanders’ team in the 39th round, the whole exercise was excruciating. Quarterback Nick Foles, who also went to Team Sanders, avoided being the final player taken by one slot. That distinction went to Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith.

If the last player taken in the real draft is Mr. Irrelevant, does that make Smith Mr. Relevant for being the last guy taken in a farcical draft?

To dismiss the dismal message sent to Jackson and Foles means there was nothing positive about running back LeSean McCoy being taken so high. McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher in 2013, was the fourth overall player taken. He was also one of Team Rice’s five “untradeable” players, whatever that means.

The most fortunate Eagle of all was left guard Evan Mathis. He was selected Tuesday, the day before the NFL Network broadcast of the main draft. That put him among the interior linemen and punters -- positions deemed unworthy of the TV portion -- but that proved to be a blessing in disguise. Mathis, who joins McCoy on Team Rice, walked out at the beginning of the broadcast and was off the hook for the rest of the show.

Well, maybe the real winner was left tackle Jason Peters, who was voted in as a starter but withdrew. He skipped the whole thing.

The Pro Bowl has always been a tough sell. It’s what football looks like when the No. 1 concern is not getting hurt. But the draft concept isn’t going to help, at least not without major improvement.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles may lack quality at the safety position, so they’re giving quantity a shot against the New Orleans Saints.

Wolff
Rookie safety Earl Wolff, listed as questionable with a knee injury, is active for Saturday night’s playoff game. Wolff has played only a single defensive series since injuring the knee Nov. 10 in Green Bay.

Veterans Patrick Chung and Kurt Coleman took first-team practice reps this week. So defensive coordinator Bill Davis is likely to use a rotation opposite safety Nate Allen in an attempt to find a solid combination. Colt Anderson, who is coming back from a knee injury, is also active.

The Eagles have five safeties active for this first-round playoff game. Davis only has to find two who can execute his defensive game plan.

Wide receiver/punt returner Damaris Johnson is inactive. That means DeSean Jackson will handle punt returns. It also means the Eagles will be without a speedy backup if Jackson is injured. Johnson has been active the last five games.

Backup center Julian Vandervelde is out because of a back injury. Left guard Evan Mathis, who was named to the AP All-Pro team this week, has practiced with the second team at center. He would fill in should starting center Jason Kelce be injured.
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

PHILADELPHIA -- Fittingly for the team that won the NFC East title, the Eagles were well represented on ESPN.com’s all-division team. Of the 26 spots, 11 went to Eagles -- including more than half the All-NFC East offense.

Nick Foles edged out Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Foles went 8-2 as a starter, threw 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions and led the NFL with a passer rating of 119.2.

NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy and wide receiver DeSean Jackson also made the all-division team. So did three-fifths of the Eagles’ starting offensive line: left tackle Jason Peters, left guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce.

Only McCoy and Peters were named to the Pro Bowl.

Four Eagles defenders made the all-division squad: linebackers Connor Barwin and DeMeco Ryans, defensive end Fletcher Cox and cornerback Brandon Boykin. Boykin is unusual in that he isn’t a starter. As the Eagles’ nickel corner, he plays only about half the defensive plays. But he had six interceptions, tied for second most in the NFL. Two of them, including the one off Kyle Orton Sunday night in Dallas, ended opponents’ comeback threats.

Punter Donnie Jones was tops in the division in net average, but his real impact was in having 35 punts downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

Film theory: Saints could copy Dallas

December, 31, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Rob Ryan's old team gave Eagles quarterback Nick Foles trouble in his two games against them. Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys sacked Foles five times, forced an intentional grounding penalty and generally shut down the Eagles' passing game in the second half.

Whether or not the Cowboys have Foles' number is a matter for 2014. Ryan, now the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints, has already burned holes through Sunday's game film with his eyes.

[+] Enlarge Nick Foles
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Dallas Cowboys sacked Nick Foles five times on Sunday.
The Eagles can expect Ryan to try some similar tactics, with some wrinkles of his own mixed in.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly said his offense experienced a "combination" of problems.

"A tackle may have stepped in the wrong direction, back didn't hit the hole at the right time, receiver didn't get off the jam properly," Kelly said. "There's not one thing that's, aha, fix it and move on. It was just a combination of not all 11 guys clicking on the same team."

Focusing on the third quarter, it was apparent that Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin found a few ways to confound the Eagles' offensive line.

On the very first play of the quarter, DeMarcus Ware bull-rushed to the inside of left tackle Jason Peters. Running back LeSean McCoy stepped up to help with Ware. That left the outside open for linebacker DeVonte Holloman to blitz. He dropped Foles for a 9-yard loss.

"LeSean got stuck inside running into the twist on the D-line but didn't come off on the linebacker," Kelly said.

The Cowboys didn't blitz all that much, though. Instead they used stunts or twists, sending one of their defensive linemen around an otherwise engaged blocker. Usually, that blocker was rookie right tackle Lane Johnson. It often looked as if Johnson was being beaten one-on-one, but he was frequently leaving one defender too late to get in the way of one he didn't know was coming.

Example: On the play that resulted in Foles' fumble, defensive end George Selvie rushed to the inside of Johnson, forcing right guard Todd Herremans to help out. Defensive tackle Nick Hayden looped around to his left and past Johnson. Meanwhile, Ware and Jason Hatcher ran a similar stunt on the other side.

Hayden pressured Foles into stepping to his left. Hatcher hit the quarterback from behind, knocking the ball free.

While all that chaos was unfolding, left guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce were more or less alone, with no one to block. The defensive maneuvering put all the pressure on the tackles.

Foles held the ball too long at times. Other times, the coverage was very good.

"Sometimes there was a guy open, he probably could have gotten it out of his hand a little quicker," Kelly said. "There were some other times where he's waiting for guys to get open and they didn't come out of the jam."

That's something else Ryan will surely pick up on. When defensive backs get physical with DeSean Jackson, he can be slowed down. The NBC cameras caught cornerback Brandon Carr holding Jackson back on a go route down the right sideline. Foles' throw was too deep, but that's because it was timed for Jackson to be running at full speed, not dragging a cornerback with him.

Much of the focus this week will be on the Saints' explosive offense and the Eagles' defensive challenges. But there's a good chance Foles and the offense will have to keep pace. To do that, they're probably going to have to fix the flaws exposed by the Cowboys, as well as the ones Ryan finds on his own.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Eagles safety Earl Wolff is inactive for Sunday night's showdown against the Dallas Cowboys.

Wolff missed four games after injuring his right knee in Green Bay Nov. 10. He returned for last week's game against Chicago but left after playing one series. Veteran Patrick Chung will start at safety in place of the rookie.

Backup safety Colt Anderson (hamstring) and backup center Julian Vandervelde, who were listed as out, were both inactive. Otherwise, it was the usual group: quarterback Matt Barkley, running back Matthew Tucker, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly and cornerback Curtis Marsh.

Offensive lineman Matt Tobin is active for the second time this season. He takes Vandervelde's spot on the 46-man roster, but would not play center if anything happened to starter Jason Kelce. That role would likely fall to left guard Evan Mathis.

As expected, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and inside linebacker Sean Lee are inactive. So is former Eagle Ernie Sims, which leaves Dallas even thinner at linebacker.

Pro Bowl selections: Philadelphia Eagles

December, 27, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles' late-season run to the brink of an NFC East title did not translate into many Pro Bowl berths.

LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, was an almost automatic selection. Left tackle Jason Peters, who had five Pro Bowl selections on his resume, was the only other Eagle chosen.

Five Cleveland Browns were chosen, so the wins-to-Pro-Bowl-berths relationship is kind of hard to figure sometimes.

McCoy was a lock. He needs just 37 rushing yards to break Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record of 1,512.

Three Eagles have legitimate gripes. And no, one of them is not quarterback Nick Foles, who was cited as the biggest snub via social media on the NFL Network's Pro Bowl selection special.

Foles has had 60 percent of a Pro Bowl season. The fact that he didn't start the Eagles' first five games, and missed another game because of a concussion, surely hurt his cause. It's also hard to argue with any of the six quarterbacks chosen: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson.

The three Eagles who should have been ticketed for Hawaii:

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is having the best season of his career. There are plenty of wide receivers with big numbers, but Jackson has provided a huge big-play element to the Eagles' prolific offense.

Left guard Evan Mathis has been the highest-rated guard by Pro Football Focus for several seasons now. He is equally dominating in the run game and in pass protection.

Center Jason Kelce has battled back from an ACL tear to anchor the Eagles' offensive line. Kelce makes the line calls, snaps the ball and is still able to get downfield and block for McCoy in the secondary.

Foles was selected as a first alternate. Jackson and Mathis were second alternates.

No one from the Eagles defense was chosen. Again, not surprising. DeMeco Ryans and Trent Cole have Pro Bowl pedigrees, but neither has the big sack or interception numbers that draw votes. Cole has eight sacks in the Eagles' last seven games but had zero through the first half of the season.

"I'd be disappointed if some of those guys didn't make it because I think [they're] deserving," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "But I don't think our guys -- I mean, it's a nice reward, but I think that their focus and attention is on what's going to go on this Sunday."

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 15

December, 16, 2013
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A review of four issues raised by the Philadelphia Eagles' 48-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

It seemed like a good idea at the time: Minnesota kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson is dangerous, so the Eagles decided to use short kickoffs that would be fielded by other members of the Vikings’ return team.

“It was a game plan, just like an offensive or defensive game plan,” cornerback and special teamer Roc Carmichael said. “We worked on it all week. We wanted to keep the ball out of (Patterson’s) hands. He’s a dynamic guy. We felt we could do better kicking it to the tight ends or fullbacks or those up guys.”

The strategy gave the Vikings consistently good field position. After kickoffs, they started drives at their 25, 38, 25, 34 and 46, respectively. If Alex Henery had simply kicked the ball out of the end zone, as Minnesota’s Blair Walsh did seven times, the Vikings would have started on their 20 each time.

“Even if you do kick it deep,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said, “he takes it out. He’s got a 109-yard kickoff return. We knew how dangerous he was, and we were just trying to keep the ball away from him.”

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
AP Photo/Andy KingIt was a long day in Minnesota on Sunday for running back LeSean McCoy and the Eagles.
Fourth-and-a-half-yard: Kelly made one good point about his decision to go for it on fourth down at his own 24-yard line in the third quarter.

“You have to think on fourth-and-a-half-a-yard, we can get a half a yard,” Kelly said.

But LeSean McCoy's dive over left guard fell short. Kelly challenged the spot -- in for a penny, in for a pound -- and wound up losing a timeout.

“It started as a combination block with me and Evan (Mathis),” center Jason Kelce said. “The 'backers are flowing hard to their gaps, so you can’t stay on the double-team that long. When he left, I started pushing my guy to the left. Shady tried to hit that hole. It looked like he just dove forward. I’m not sure why we didn’t get it.”

It was McCoy’s second try to pick up that single yard. On third-and-1, he was stopped on a run around right end.

“We shouldn’t have been in that situation,” Kelce said, “if we did a better job on third down. We had a good play called, I thought. I was pulling. I got picked by one of the blocks inside. That made LeSean bounce it outside.”

Trying too hard: Eagles quarterback Nick Foles prides himself on being a team-first guy. So when he had to block a linebacker on a reverse, he didn’t settle for the usual quarterback patty-cake block. He dove in an attempt to take the player out.

“In the heat of battle, I made a mistake,” Foles said. “I made a block that I thought would help the team. You cannot turn back on someone and do that. I am at fault and the referee made the correct call.”

The penalty for an illegal peel-back block negated DeSean Jackson's touchdown. The Eagles instead kicked a field goal. The irony is that the pattycake block -- just getting in front of the defender -- would have been effective in springing Jackson.

“He has to seal that guy,” Kelly said. “I don’t think he had to cut him.”

Unraveling: Things got messy for the Eagles toward the end of the game.

Jackson made a great run after a short pass from Foles, making five defenders miss for a 51-yard gain to the Minnesota 4-yard line. The normally up-tempo Eagles couldn’t get a play off before the clock ran down and were flagged for delay of game.

After Foles’ 16-yard touchdown pass to Jason Avant made it 41-28, the kicking team started on the field. Kelly had to waste a timeout to set up for the two-point conversion.

“It was just a miscommunication upstairs,” Kelly said. “We should have gone for two, and that’s on me.”

Then there was the wave of penalties: Carmichael for taunting, Patrick Chung and Cary Williams for unnecessary roughness, Carmichael for 30 yards for pass interference.

Carmichael said he and Vikings wide receiver Rodney Smith had been going back and forth all game on special teams.

“I told him it was going to be a long day,” Carmichael said. “I turned around and there was a flag. It’s part of the game.”

Williams didn’t talk to reporters after the game.

Sound the horn: 'Vikings meet Vikings'

December, 12, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA – It all started with a book discovered by former Philadelphia Eagles fullback Owen Schmitt.

The subject: The Berserkers, a group of Norsemen who were said to fight with an animalistic ferocity. Schmitt told his teammates about them, particularly the offensive linemen. Next thing you knew, as Pete Townshend once wrote, the beards had all grown longer overnight. Right tackle Todd Herremans sported a Berserker-inspired topknot for a little while there.

[+] EnlargeJason Kelce
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelWhat's behind the beards on Jason Kelce and the Eagles? Well, have you heard of the Berserkers?
With the Eagles going to the land of those other Vikings – they play in Minnesota on Sunday – center Jason Kelce was quick to make the distinction. He and his hirsute linemates are not emulating mere Vikings here.

“Owen lent me the book about the Berserkers,” Kelce said. “We both got all fired up. That was two years ago. I decided to do it again this year. It will stay on against the Vikings – Vikings meet Vikings.”

Kelce may have to buy a copy of that book for coach Chip Kelly. On Tuesday, when the Eagles practiced in their indoor facility, the usual loud music was augmented by the Viking horn that blares relentlessly in the Metrodome. That was news to Kelly.

“I have no idea what that is,” Kelly said. “I literally have nothing to do with the music. I thought it was the horn from 'Anchorman.' Remember when he asked for his guys and they were all standing right next to him? I went conch shell.”

Conch shell? It’s a Gjallarhorn, and it’s safe to say Kelly will be very familiar with it by the end of Sunday’s game. It will be music to the ears of the Berserkers on his offensive line, though.

Left tackle Jason Peters and left guard Evan Mathis have substantial beards. Herremans, now at right guard, shaved his beard off and then regrew it for Movember. It’s relatively tame compared with the other four guys. Rookie right tackle Lane Johnson has succumbed to the peer pressure, it seems, and his beard is increasingly bushy.

“We didn’t say anything to him about that,” Herremans said.

It turns out Johnson has a very different reason for his beard.

“I’ve always had facial hair,” Johnson said. “When you gain a bunch of weight, you kind of have a double chin. So it covers that up. You will never see me with this gone.”

So no Norse warriors?

“That’s Jason’s inspiration,” Johnson said. “Go ask him about the Berserkers. That’s all he talks about.”

Healthy Peters back in Pro Bowl form

December, 12, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA – For most of the season, Jason Peters appeared on the Philadelphia Eagles’ weekly injury report with what looked like a random list of body parts next to his name.

Fingers. Shoulder. Pectoral muscle.

What mattered, though, was the body part that never showed up on the list. Peters said his twice-ruptured, twice-repaired Achilles tendon has been pain-free.

[+] EnlargeJason Peters
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellJason Peters was one of two Philadelphia offensive linemen to earn a Pro bowl nod in 2013.
“It feels like I never done it,” Peters said. “It never gets sore, none of that. I feel good every day I go out there.”

In order to play in Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense, Peters dropped from 345 to 320 pounds. A happy by-product of that is less weight for his Achilles to bear.

“I feel as strong as I’ve ever felt,” Peters said. “I didn’t lose anything by losing the weight.”

Peters played with those various nagging injuries, never missing a start. If he hasn’t been as good as the Pro Bowl-caliber tackle he was before the Achilles cost him the 2012 season, it’s impossible to tell.

“I felt like I played pretty good the first three weeks,” Peters said. “I gave up one sack to [Kansas City’s Tamba] Hali and a couple pressures. Besides that, I think it took me a little while to get rolling, but after a couple weeks I settled and got it going.”

Hali’s sack of Michael Vick stood out because it was such a rare occurrence. Hali got by Peters with a speed rush. It turns out there was more going on than met the eye.

“I think Mike took a five-step drop,” Peters said. “I thought it was a shorter drop, a three-step drop. He just ran the edge and got me.”

Three months later, Peters still seems annoyed by the play.

“It bothered me a lot,” Peters said. “He didn’t really beat me. Bad technique. It made me better, humbled me to work harder the next week and the week after that.”

It was rare for Peters to appear in the locker room during the hour or so it is open to the media. Center Jason Kelce said Peters is quiet around strangers but warm and open around his teammates. Before every game, Peters is the player at the center of the Eagles’ final huddle before they return to the locker room for final preparations.

He is a presence, one the Eagles missed badly last season. Peters was the first domino to fall along the offensive line. By this time last year, Peters, Kelce and Todd Herremans were all gone.

This year, all five linemen have started every game. That goes a long way toward explaining why LeSean McCoy is leading the NFL in rushing and why Nick Foles has been able to perform at such a high level.

Those are the kinds of results that get offensive linemen sent to the Pro Bowl. Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis are both worthy of consideration for their first trips. For Peters, it would be the sixth selection.

“If I make it, I make it,” he said. “If I don’t, I don’t. I’ll just work harder next year to make [it]. It’s no big deal to me. I’ve got a couple under my belt. I’d rather just get to the playoffs and go deep into the playoffs.”

The Eagles have a chance to do just that, and the big man at left tackle is one of the reasons.
PHILADELPHIA -- Cary Williams broke into the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, spent four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent this year.

He has seen how hazing is handled in the cultures of three different locker rooms.

Williams
“A lot of guys in Baltimore didn’t believe in it,” Williams said. “They really didn’t care for it. Not that they felt there wasn’t a place for it, they just didn’t make a rookie sit in a cold tub if he didn’t feel like sitting in a cold tub. Or putting Icy Hot in a helmet. We had those situations in Tennessee.”

Williams said Titans coach Jeff Fisher participated in the age-old prank of sending rookies out to get free turkeys before Thanksgiving.

“There was nothing but ice in the turkey boxes,” Williams said. “It was all in good fun.”

Fisher’s role is not surprising. That gag was standard in Philadelphia, and Fisher played for and coached under Buddy Ryan. It’s also an example of how hazing can be a kind of rite of passage without turning into intimidation or bullying.

“We had good leadership in place to kind of manage those situations, and it didn’t get out of hand,” Williams said. “To me, it made the locker room a little bit more fun. I remember vividly, I had my Jordans thrown in a cold tub. I only found one of those shoes. I’m still looking for it.”

“The hazing should be there to build camaraderie and to grow together as a group,” Eagles guard Evan Mathis said. “It shouldn’t be where someone’s getting bullied and put down and making them feel bad. That’s not what we’re trying to do.”

The Eagles of the 1980s and 1990s engaged in a certain amount of rookie hazing. In the lunch room at training camp, rookies would have to sing their school song or perform some other act to amuse the veterans. I distinctly remember a player being taped to a goalpost at Lehigh University and left there until someone noticed and cut him loose.

Andy Reid put an end to all that when he became head coach in 1999.

“Andy was very much against hazing and all that stuff,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said.

Reid was here 14 years, plenty of time for the culture of hazing to shrivel up and die. When Chip Kelly brought his progressive, modern approach here this year, there was no major change in policy needed.

"Chip hasn’t really spoken about hazing or anything," Williams said. "I don’t think this team functions like that. There’s nothing wrong with that. Some teams do it, some teams don’t. We're one of the teams that don’t. It’s fine with me."

Rookies still have to buy meals for the veterans at their positions. Rookie safety Earl Wolff is in charge of buying snacks for the defensive backs meetings.

“But that’s more like paying your dues than it is hazing,” second-year linebacker Mychal Kendricks said.

“We're all on the same team,” Kelly said, “and I think everyone should be treated the same way. Some of our young offensive linemen make sure there’s water stocked in the offensive line meeting room, but everybody’s a professional. We don’t do a rookie show, we don’t do those things. Everybody is on the same side.”

Make no mistake. Fun is had in the NovaCare Complex. Players spray air freshener after a flatulent teammate crop dusts one corner of the locker room. There is a pool table in the players’ lounge that gets plenty of use.

"We do pranks on each other," Kendricks said. "If someone gets me, I try to get them back. But it's never about disrespecting someone else."

There is a common theme, Williams said: "We treat every man here with respect."

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