Philadelphia Eagles: lane johnson

Kelce discusses Johnson suspension, Kelly

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
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Center Jason Kelce is one of the most personable players on the Philadelphia Eagles.

He’s also one of the most accessible.

Kelce is always willing to express his opinion with the media, and he had some very interesting things to offer in a wide-ranging interview on 94-WIP radio.

Here are a couple of highlights from the interview:

On offensive lineman Lane Johnson's reported four-game suspension to open the season for performance-enhancing drugs: “Obviously it’s not something we’re happy about. Lane is a guy that really developed well last year. He was looking great in the offseason, so I was really excited to see what he could do. He'll still be out there this season but through the first four games I was excited to see how much better he was this year than last year. He made a terrible… he made a mistake. He made a poor decision. This is something that I don't think is that big of a deal in terms of what he was doing. But obviously you're cheating your season four games.”

On coach Chip Kelly: “[Kelly] is one of the smartest guys I have ever been around. He communicates with his players so at all times you know what's being asked of you. One of the things that a lot of coaches and a lot of organizations struggle with is that everything is not crystal clear. The direction of what you're trying to do, not just as a player, but as a team in general over the course of the season -- a lot of the times coaches aren't very clear on what that demand is. With Chip, every single day there's a mission set in place, there's a culture set in place he wants us to abide by. You understand what's set in place, the precedent that's set in place, and everybody's being asked the same thing. And that's why you do it because the guys next to you are willing to do the exact same thing for you.”
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles don't have a problem if offensive tackle Lane Johnson is really suspended for four games, as reported by Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News.

They have several problems.

Remember, Johnson was a quarterback in high school and then a tight end when he first got to Oklahoma University. The 6-foot-6 Johnson bulked up to more than 300 pounds to become an offensive tackle good enough to be taken fourth overall in the 2013 NFL draft.

Johnson
Was that physical transformation natural or the result of performance-enhancing drugs? This is more than a theoretical matter for the Eagles. They drafted Johnson based on his size and his physical skills. At the scouting combine last year, Johnson ran a 4.75-yard 40-yard dash, an excellent time for a man of his size. The Eagles drafted him fourth, which meant a contract worth almost $20 million, including a signing bonus of $12 million.

The Eagles made that investment on the assumption that Johnson was clean. He earned his money as a rookie, starting all 16 regular-season games plus the playoff game against New Orleans. But the question becomes, can he perform at the same level if he stops doing whatever earned him a four-game suspension?

If Johnson is sidelined, the Eagles could start either guard Todd Herremans or backup lineman Allen Barbre at right tackle. Barbe performed very well when pressed into action at left tackle last year at Green Bay. Herremans played right tackle in 2012 and 2013 before moving back inside to guard last year.

The other candidates to fill in for Johnson are Dennis Kelly, who was troubled by back pain last season, and Matt Tobin and Michael Bamiro. The Eagles did not take an offensive lineman in this year's draft.

Taking a step back, a suspension would cast doubts upon more than just Johnson.

Head coach Chip Kelly has gotten a lot of attention for his training methods and his sports science-based approach to football. It didn't raise many questions when linebacker Jake Knott was suspended earlier this year. But now, with a first-round pick and starter reportedly testing positive for PEDs, there will be plenty of speculation about what's in those custom smoothies the players drink after every practice.

Johnson would be the fifth Eagles player suspended for performance enhancing drugs. This would be the first time, however, that two Eagles have tested positive in the same year. Instead of a minor player whose absence would barely be noticed, Knott becomes part of a trend for the 2013 NFC East champions. If there are no more positive tests, there will be no more suspicions. But if the trend continues, questions will be asked.

Lane Johnson settling in for Eagles

June, 14, 2014
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Everything was new last season.

Coach Chip Kelly and his fast-paced system, the speed of the NFL, the size and strength of players -- it was all a challenge for Philadelphia Eagles rookie Lane Johnson.

Johnson was the fourth overall pick in the draft and became a consistent starter on the offensive line for the Eagles, who finished 10-6 and captured the NFC East title.

Having that experience was so valuable.

“This year is a lot different,” Johnson told CSNPhilly.com. “I know the schedule, the plays and the offense, so I’m more familiar with things. I feel a lot more comfortable than as a rookie.”

Johnson started all 16 games at right tackle and that familiarity will help as he enters his second season.

“This is the first year I’ve been able to play the same position for consecutive years, so playing back-to-back (years) at right tackle will be good for me,” Johnson told CSNPhilly.com. “In the pass set, I feel a lot more comfortable on the right side than I did last year.”

The offensive line was a major strength for the Eagles last season and it showed with running back LeSean McCoy leading the league in rushing.

Johnson had a strong rookie season and he’s expecting even better things in 2014.

“There was a lot of guessing and being unsure of myself last year,” Johnson said. “I want to come out playing fast right away and be confident and I think when I do that good things will happen.”

PHILADELPHIA -- A day after the offensive linemen went to dinner, the veterans were still laughing. The rookies still looked a little stunned by the whole thing.

“Top shelf, top shelf,” a veteran chanted, teasing one of the rookies.

It was 1998, and the joke was that the rookies had been tricked into buying a round of drinks. The veterans all ordered Louis XIII de Remy Martin cognac. The rookies had no idea how much it cost until the check came. The bottle, they knew, came from the top shelf.

The more things change …

The Eagles' offensive line went to Del Frisco’s, a Center City steakhouse, on Friday night. The check included a couple of rounds of Louis XIII, as well as a few expensive bottles of wine. The total, including tax and gratuity: $17,747.86.

We know this because Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson posted a photo of the check on Twitter Saturday. That was not an issue in 1998. It wouldn’t be that much of an issue even now, except for the little episode in Miami last year. After offensive lineman Jonathan Martin accused teammate Richie Incognito and others of hazing him -- including making him pay for expensive dinners -- the entire NFL is just a bit more sensitive to these sorts of activities.

“Since that Miami scandal, everybody’s on high alert,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said Monday. “I’m not going to get into who bought what. Bottom line, it was a team function.”

Johnson’s image of the check was retweeted over 1,200 times. The second-year player issued a followup tweet Sunday, saying “For those of you so concerned with MY business, I am grateful to be able to treat my O-line to such a great evening VOLUNTARILY.”

After Monday’s OTA practice, Johnson said that several of his teammates chipped in, as well. But it’s worth noting that Johnson was the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. His contract was worth just under $20 million, including a $12 million signing bonus. So a little perspective is important.

Still, Kelce said, it remains traditional for rookies to pay for a big dinner. Three years ago, when Kelce was a rookie, he and two fellow rookies paid for the offensive line’s meal at a steakhouse. First round pick Danny Watkins paid more than sixth-rounder Kelce or Julian Vandervelde, a fifth-round pick.

“It’s kind of like your first bonding experience after you make the team,” Kelce said. “Nobody forced Lane to do that. This was with any profession, I feel like. You get a raise or a promotion or something, the first thing you do is take out your family, your friends, the people that you care about. I just signed a big deal, I’m going to do something for these guys. We have a tight-knit group of guys and Lane was happy to do that.”

“It ain’t no big deal to me,” Johnson said. “I should probably have given it some clarity. I just tweeted out that it was our rookie dinner. During the season, we go out to dinner every Thursday and we play credit-card roulette, so we have a lot of fun with that, too.”

The more things change .... According to the receipt, Louis XIII still reigns among NFL players. A round of five drinks added $1,375.00 to the tab. The top shelf is still pretty high.


Lane Johnson shares his thoughts

May, 24, 2014
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Right tackle Lane Johnson started all 16 regular-season games and the 26-24 playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints last season.

The second-year lineman, the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, discussed the marathon season and a number of other subjects with the Philadelphia Daily News’ Les Bowen.

On how Johnson felt after the playoff loss: “I was tired. Mainly I just needed to rest.”

On how his rookie season went after a slow start: “Confidence is a big factor in it. Whenever rookies first start out, they have a bad game, your confidence gets shaken. You're not sure of yourself, your head's spinning. Then once you go out there and have a few good games, (you) notice that you can really kind of mix it up, have the skill set to do some things. I think confidence was a big factor with me developing there at the end of the year.”

On his ability: “I know I have the talent to one day be a Pro Bowl player. That's my goal. I have a lot more confidence this year.”

On his mindset: “Don't overthink things. Try to keep it simple. I think when you keep things simple, they're easier.”

Lane Johnson looks back, ahead

April, 23, 2014
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Offensive tackle Lane Johnson attended the Philadelphia Eagles’ voluntary workouts the past couple of days and discussed a variety of topics with the team's official site.

Here’s a sampling of what Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick last year, had to say:
On his rookie season: “Hopefully (I set the tone). I think ‘raw’ is just a lack of experience. Some of the guys are good in college, but it’s a different level here in the NFL, especially as far as pass-blocking. It just takes time and experience I think. You just have to learn as you go.”

On performing within coach Chip Kelly’s complicated offensive system: “I think it was a good system fit. This is very similar to what I did in college. A lot of the same plays with just different terminology, so a lot of things just clicked there. I had some rookie bumps, but I was able to battle back through adversity and I thought I played pretty well down the stretch.”

On the difficult transition to the NFL: “There was a lot of film study that went into it. (I was) just trying to be on the same page as my teammates, like Todd (Herremans) and people that I was playing next to. There was a lot of that, especially towards the beginning of the year, and then towards the later part you click a lot more easily.”

On his training regimen: “There are some conditioning things that we did differently, just as far as recording your stuff and being so much more conscious of what you’re doing and monitoring everything, and everything as far as a recovery aspect. They’re really big on getting your body back to full speed every day. That’s one of the biggest differences that I’ve noticed.”

On what he expects this season: “I’m trying to be a dominant piece on the right side. I think last year was a learning experience, but now I feel a lot more confident going in. I know what to expect and I’m just trying to take it to the next level.”

Should Eagles go after Dion Jordan?

February, 28, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles coach Chip Kelly had nothing but praise for his former Oregon defensive end, Dion Jordan, after he was drafted third overall by the Miami Dolphins last season.

Kelly said the Eagles had Jordan among the top four players available in the draft. If offensive tackle Lane Johnson had gone third, the Eagles would have taken Jordan fourth. Instead, it went the other way around.

Joseph
Jordan
That’s relevant because of reports that the Dolphins are gauging Jordan’s value in a possible trade (ESPN's Louis Riddick mentioned this earlier this month and CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported it Friday). At 6-6, 248 pounds, Jordan personifies Kelly's archetype for an edge defensive player. The fact that Kelly basically said the Eagles would have taken him fourth will trigger speculation that the Eagles should go after Jordan now.

Should they?

First, let’s tamp down the significance of Kelly’s draft-day comment. Jordan played very well for him. He was drafted third overall. There was no reason for Kelly to say anything remotely critical of the kid at that point. That doesn’t mean the Eagles didn’t have Jordan graded that high -- most experts did -- merely that a benign comment isn't the basis for any kind of conclusion.

There are two considerations in any situation like this: what you’re getting and what you’d have to give up. It is almost universally agreed that the 2014 draft is as deep as any in recent memory. So a high pick in this draft has significantly more value than a high pick in last year’s more modest class.

Jordan did not have a good rookie season, to put it mildly. Pro Football Focus, which grades every player on every play in film review, called him a “complete bust” based on his 2013 season. Jordan had two sacks as a part-time pass-rusher and couldn't displace Olivier Vernon at right defensive end.

That is one reason the Dolphins appear to be ready to give up on the draft's third pick after one season. Another is that GM Jeff Ireland, who traded up to get Jordan, has been fired.

None of that makes Jordan sound very appealing. But if you've paid attention to NFL news this offseason, you might have gotten the impression that the Dolphins are not exactly a well-run football franchise. A rookie walking into the Richie Incognito-influenced locker room might have a little trouble getting comfortable and performing at his best.

If Jordan is a potentially great player, as many believed before last year's draft, stuck in a bad situation, he could be a steal. For the Eagles, he would fill an enormous need without having to overspend in free agency or hope an edge rusher falls their way in the draft.

Player-for-player trades are rare in the NFL, and it's hard to imagine the Dolphins parting with a high-profile investment like Jordan for the likes of Brandon Graham or Bryce Brown. It will probably take draft picks -- although Graham at least lets the Dolphins save face by saying they simply swapped first-round defensive ends.

Could Howie Roseman give up a higher pick in next year's draft, which should be as depleted as this year’s was flooded by the number of underclassmen jumping in? Miami might prefer to say they got a first-round pick, regardless of year, than get a second- or third-round pick in 2014.

The Eagles’ advantage is obvious. Kelly saw Jordan practice and play for four years at Oregon. He knows better than anyone what the player is capable of doing, and he knows exactly how Jordan would fit into the defensive schemes the Eagles are using.

That could make a trade very attractive or completely out of the question, depending on Kelly’s true evaluation.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' new contract extension with Jason Peters answered a couple of questions and raised a couple more.

To wit:
  • The contract doesn’t change the Eagles’ offseason plans, according to general manager Howie Roseman, even though it frees up a few million dollars in 2014 cap space.


    “We had anticipated making a big push on Jason,” Roseman said. “He was a priority. It doesn’t affect our plans because it was part of our plans.”
  • Ponder
    Peters
    Roseman didn’t come right out and say that center Jason Kelce is next on his to-do list. Like Peters, Kelce is going into the final year of his contract, and also like Peters, Kelce is an integral part of the offensive line.


    “Just trying to keep that private,” Roseman said. “Without getting into specifics: a guy we drafted, a guy that we think very highly of, a guy that fits the culture and the chemistry.”

    A few minutes later, Roseman defined players the Eagles would seek to extend.


    “We’re going to try to keep the guys we feel are our best players,” Roseman said. “Guys who are part of our culture, and that fit well into the chemistry of our football team on and off the field.”

    Sounds like Kelce.
  • Signing the 32-year-old Peters to a five-year deal doesn’t mark a major change in club policy. The Eagles never had an absolute rule against extending players past age 30, but they did and do look to avoid commitments to older players on the decline. Peters is just an exception.


    “This is a unique situation when you’re talking about Jason Peters and his level of excellence,” Roseman said. “It’s hard to turn on the tape and look at him as a 31-year-old offensive tackle. You look at him and you see him dominate players. He still has upside in his body. ... For us, this is about the player.”
  • The Eagles would still take an offensive tackle in the first round if their board dictated it.


    “We’re going to take him,” Roseman said. “That’s a commitment, whatever the position that is. If they’re the highest rated player on our board, we’re going to take them.”
  • Last year’s first-round pick, tackle Lane Johnson, was touted as a guy who could eventually move to the left side. With Peters locked in for the next few years, that doesn’t seem as likely.


    “There’s a lot of talk about left tackle, right tackle,” Roseman said. “When you look at the pass-rushers in this league and how they’re playing defensive players, if you have a weakness on one side, they’re going to put the best pass-rusher on that side. You really need two left tackles in this game and we think we have them.”
PHILADELPHIA -- When the NFL Network camera caught Chip Kelly watching wide receivers run the 40-yard dash at the combine Sunday, it brought to mind something the Eagles head coach said early this year.

The Eagles were preparing to play the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs, and Kelly was asked about Sean Payton's offense.

“He's obviously got some talent and they're a really, really talented football team, but Sean does a great job of getting his playmakers in matchups that are favorable to him and he does it week in and week out,” Kelly said, before ticking off a list of players' names.

“There's a ton of them,” Kelly said. “That's what Sean and Drew (Brees) have -- a lot of toys.”

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsChip Kelly is eager to add offensive toys from this year's rookie class.
There was just a hint of envy in Kelly's voice. That's what resonated as he and general manager Howie Roseman looked down upon the wideouts, running backs and quarterbacks doing drills in Indianapolis. As good as Kelly's offense was in his first season, it figures to be that much more varied and explosive as the Eagles add new toys for him to play with.

And that is why it wouldn't be shocking for the Eagles to allow both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper to walk in free agency. If they also part with veteran Jason Avant, who is due $3 million, that could mean huge turnover at a vital position.

At the same time, Roseman has said he is open to bringing both Cooper and Maclin back at the right prices. The Philadelphia Inquirer, citing unnamed sources, reported over the weekend that Maclin was the team's first priority. That report followed a Pro Football Talk report last week that there is expected to be a robust market for Cooper.

Frankly, until March 11, nothing that is leaked out anonymously should be taken too seriously. It would benefit Cooper for someone in his camp to predict that he will draw a lot of interest from other teams. And it would benefit the Eagles to send the message that Cooper is not their No. 1 priority.

Meanwhile, Roseman's on-the-record remarks can be taken at face value -- and there is certainly reason to believe he is open to drafting wide receivers from this talent-rich draft -- and read as coded messages for the agents he will have to negotiate with. The Eagles have “walkaway” numbers for the players they'd like to sign, and it doesn't hurt for agents to know that, and to know Roseman has other attractive options.

While the Eagles are still looking to upgrade the talent on their defense, they remain very likely to draft and sign offensive talent. Kelly went into the 2013 season with almost no additions to the offensive personnel he inherited. Rookies Lane Johnson and Zach Ertz were the only notable exceptions.

Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, Avant and Cooper produced the vast majority of the Eagles' yardage and points in 2013. Kelly has had a full season to learn their talents as well as their limitations. He knows where he had to cut corners while devising his weekly game plans and where a key addition or two could add octane to his schemes.

He may just want some new toys to play with, and the combine is like the world' biggest toy store.
PHILADELPHIA – Numbers seldom tell the story when it comes to offensive line play. For the 2013 Eagles, though, these numbers were remarkably eloquent:

Jason Peters: 1,019.

Evan Mathis: 1,104.

Jason Kelce: 1,096.

Todd Herremans: 1,104.

Lane Johnson: 1,103.

[+] EnlargeJason Peters
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellJason Peters was one of two Philadelphia offensive linemen to earn a Pro bowl nod in 2013.
Those are the snap counts for the Eagles’ starting line, from left tackle to right tackle. Guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans played every single offensive snap. Right tackle Lane Johnson missed one play. Center Jason Kelce played 99 percent of the snaps. Left tackle Jason Peters, coming off two tears of the same Achilles tendon, played 92 percent.

A year after four of the five starting linemen were lost to injury, the Eagles enjoyed remarkable health at this most vital of positions. So it’s no surprise the line was one of the team’s strongest areas. Peters and Mathis were selected for the Pro Bowl. Kelce deserved to be.

The right side of the line wasn’t as strong, but that’s deceptive. The left side is the best in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. And the right had two players – veteran Herremans, who was relearning guard after playing tackle, and rookie Johnson – who improved noticeably as the season went on.

The line cleared the way for LeSean McCoy to lead the league in rushing and gave Nick Foles time to put up some unprecedented numbers and stake his claim to the starting quarterback spot.

There are two points to consider here. The first is that the Eagles aren’t lucky to win the injury-free lottery every year, so they will need depth behind the starting five. The other is that Peters, Mathis and Herremans are all over 30. Top reserve Allen Barbre will be 30 in June. So it makes sense to have some young linemen in development.

The Eagles do. One consequence of the starters’ health is that we never got to see any of them play.

In an interview with Bleeding Green Nation, Mathis cited Matt Tobin as a player to watch. The undrafted free agent from Iowa slipped ahead of Dennis Kelly, based on the weekly inactive list. At 6-foot-6, 290 pounds, Tobin is big enough to play tackle as well as guard.

And then there is Michael Bamiro, the 6-8, 340-pound project from Stony Brook. Bamiro spent the season working with offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and his assistant, the similarly mammoth former tackle Tra Thomas.

Can Tobin, Bamiro, Kelly and center Julian Vandervelde provide enough depth behind the starters and the versatile Barbre? There is probably enough talent and potential there to make the offensive line relatively low on the priority list.

That said, the position is too important for the Eagles to pass on a player they like in the draft. That is GM Howie Roseman’s philosophy, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Eagles drafted a lineman or two.

While we’re on the line, we should mention that long snapper Jon Dorenbos had another very fine season. It’s a position you don’t think much about until a mistake is made. Dorenbos, 33, doesn’t make anyone think about it.

Two views of Eagles' 2013 draft

January, 24, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- A couple of respected gentlemen took a look back at the 2013 NFL draft this week. It was interesting to see their different takes on how the Eagles fared.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. regraded the draft after one season and compared it to the grades he issued immediately after the three-day event last April. It’s an ESPN Insider piece. Let’s just say the Eagles got a B-plus from Kiper in April and, one NFC East title and one playoff game later, they got a B-plus again.

“The grade stays high as a pretty good team added key help,” Kiper writes, citing the improvement made by first-round pick Lane Johnson, second-round pick Zach Ertz and third-round pick Bennie Logan.

Johnson started every game at right tackle and played much better in the second half of the season. Ertz emerged as a playmaker at tight end. Logan moved into the starting defensive tackle spot after making veteran Isaac Sopoaga expendable at the trade deadline.

My old pal Don Banks at SI.com took a different approach. Banks ran a redraft of the entire first round based on how the 2013 draft class performed.

Instead of Johnson, Banks had the Eagles taking Alabama’s D.J. Fluker. Banks writes there is “nothing shabby” about the Eagles’ selection of Johnson, but points out that Fluker was an all-rookie team selection for San Diego. The Chargers took Fluker with the 11th overall pick. Banks has Johnson going seventh overall to the Arizona Cardinals in his redo.

The twist: Jeff Stoutland, the Eagles’ first-year offensive line coach, spent the previous two seasons at Alabama. So he knew Fluker as well as anyone.

Given Johnson’s steady improvement and relative lack of inexperience at the position, the former quarterback and defensive lineman still has terrific potential. But Fluker will provide an interesting comparison for as long as both players are in the NFL.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles’ coaching and personnel staffs are in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl practices. In the past, the annual all-star game as featured many of the players the Eagles would go on to draft.

That may be changing, however.

In the 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts, the Eagles selected 19 players who appeared in the Senior Bowl. They included Nick Foles, Brandon Boykin, Danny Watkins, Riley Cooper, Brandon Graham and Nate Allen.

Last year, though, the Eagles took just two Senior Bowlers, first-round pick Lane Johnson and seventh-round pick, Jordan Poyer. In the second and third rounds, they took tight end Zach Ertz and defensive tackle Bennie Logan, two of the record 73 underclassmen who declared for the 2013 draft.

This year, that record has been shattered again. A total of 98 underclassmen have declared themselves eligible for the 2014 draft.

There is a reason for the trend. The NFL’s newest collective bargaining agreement, carved from the lockout of 2011, was not especially kind to incoming rookies. There are limits to what teams can pay their draft picks, and players are stuck with those rookie contracts through at least the first three seasons.

That is why Foles, for example, can’t receive a contract extension until after the 2014 season, at the earliest.

For players, that means coming into the league earlier makes more financial sense in the long term. The real money is now in the second contract, even for high first-round picks. If the player can get that second contract at 25 instead of 26 or 27, that means adding a prime earning year or two to their careers.

For teams, it means adding a year or two of prime performance. Running back LeSean McCoy, for instance, turned 21 in July before his rookie season in 2009. He’s only 25 after completing his fifth season. That means the Eagles can get a full 10 years of McCoy’s best before he hits the dreaded 30 barrier.

McCoy is only two years younger than Johnson and Matt Barkley, two of the Eagles’ 2013 rookies, but he has four more seasons of NFL experience and earnings.

All 98 of the underclassmen who declared this year won’t get drafted. Using last year’s numbers – 52 or 71.2 percent of the 73 underclassmen were selected – would translate to about 70 sophomores and juniors being taken in the May draft.

That’s nearly a third of the typical draft class. The NFL isn’t at the point reached by the NBA, where seniors are suspect because most of the really elite players come out early, but it is heading in that direction.

So the Eagles will work the Senior Bowl as always. Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com noted a few of the players they seemed interested in talking with Monday, notably Nebraska cornerback Stan Jean-Baptiste. Just don’t be surprised if they don’t draw as heavily from this talent pool as they have in the past.
PHILADELPHIA --It was a little surprising to see the Eagles’ place in the Pro Football Focus offensive-line rankings this week.

It wasn’t so much that the Eagles were at No. 9 (up from 19th last year), a little lower than I would have expected, but that they were third in the NFC East. PFF ranked Washington (No. 3) and Dallas (No. 4) ahead of the Eagles.

The other interesting aspect: The Eagles were ranked first overall in run blocking, but way down at 18th in pass blocking. While there were some obvious breakdowns over the course of the regular season, that was surprisingly low. If nothing else, Nick Foles’ otherworldly passer rating (119.2) and other achievements suggest a certain level of pass protection.

PFF bestowed its Bruce Matthews Award for the NFL’s best offensive lineman on Eagles left guard Evan Mathis. So it figured that Mathis, with his grade of plus-46.7, would draw praise for “putting on a clinic” at guard. It was similarly predictable that rookie right tackle Lane Johnson would be the weak spot, although Johnson’s in-season improvement was noted, as well.

The staff at Pro Football Focus grades every player at every position based on game film, so this is more than a casual ranking. If the PFF grades are similar to what the Eagles coaches see, it raises the question of whether the offensive line’s continuity is as much of a given as generally believed.

In other words, if the pass protection really requires that much of an upgrade, is Johnson’s expected second-year improvement enough to get it done? Remember, it will also be the second year for Johnson, Mathis, Todd Herremans, Jason Kelce and Jason Peters working together under line coach Jeff Stoutland.

“It will be our second year together as a group,” Mathis said. “We plan to be better than we were this year.”

Or are some of the veterans -- notably right guard Herremans -- not as safe as you might think?

Herremans, Mathis and left tackle Peters are all on the wrong side of 30, so at some point, the Eagles have to begin thinking about long-term plans along the line.

“When we start slowing down, it’s a bad thing,” Mathis said. “Tell me how old I am all you want. It doesn’t really matter. When I slow down, you can tell me I’m slowing down. Until then, it’s really irrelevant.”
PHILADELPHIA -- There was a time a rookie offensive tackle would be eased into NFL action. He might even start out at guard and gradually move outside as he became more comfortable.

Of course, there was also a time a quarterback might sit for all or most of a season before becoming a starter.

That time, in the ever faster-moving NFL, is gone.

So it should be no surprise that Lane Johnson, the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, played 1,103 of a possible 1,104 offensive snaps for the Philadelphia Eagles in his first season. Johnson was given one down off to catch his breath in the first game against the Giants in October.

It still takes more than a season to evaluate a draft class, but the process is being sped up all the time. Here’s a look at Johnson and the rest of the Eagles’ rookies -- or as first-year coach Chip Kelly puckishly dubbed them, “My favorite draft class for the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Johnson
First round: Lane Johnson, offensive tackle, Oklahoma. The fourth overall pick, Johnson was one of the three offensive tackles taken at the top of the draft. He arguably had a better overall rookie season than No. 1 pick Eric Fisher (Kansas City) and No. 2 pick Luke Joeckel (Jacksonville).

Perhaps inevitably for a guy who had played quarterback and defensive end before being shifted to the offensive line in college, Johnson had some growing pains. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed seven sacks in the first eight games of the season but just three the rest of the way. He was solid in run blocking, as well.

It’s worth noting, too, that few rookie tackles (if any) are asked to line up split wide and block on bubble screens. Johnson took everything thrown his way with a smile and a shrug. He’s got a chance to be anchored at tackle for this franchise for a decade.

Also on board: Almost everyone.

Good pick or bad pick? Very good pick.

Ertz
Second round: Zach Ertz, tight end, Stanford. Taking Ertz here, 35th overall, was an expression of GM Howie Roseman’s commitment to taking the top-graded player regardless of need. The Eagles already had signed James Casey in free agency and and had Brent Celek on the roster.

Would they have improved their overall team more by drafting cornerbacks Darius Slay or Johnthan Banks, or linebackers Manti Te’o or Kiko Alonso, or running back Giovani Bernard?

Maybe. But Ertz is going to be making plays in Kelly’s offense for years to come. He’s smart, driven and possesses excellent hands and good size (6-foot-5, 250). Like most young tight ends, he has to improve as a blocker and said he plans to spend time in the weight room in the offseason.

Also on board: Slay, Bernard, Te’o, Geno Smith and Tank Carradine were the next five players drafted. Alonso, who earned defensive rookie of the year consideration, went 11 picks later to Buffalo.

Good pick or bad pick? Good pick.

Logan
Third round: Bennie Logan, defensive tackle, LSU. The 6-foot-2, 309-pound Logan’s development allowed the Eagles to trade veteran Isaac Sopoaga at the deadline. Logan started at nose tackle the last eight games, which corresponded with the overall defense’s improvement.

Oddly, Logan had his only two sacks in the first half of the season, when he was playing limited snaps. It remains to be seen if he’s the true anchor/nose tackle of the future, but he has enough versatility to play in different fronts as needed.

Also on the board: Tyrann Mathieu, Mike Glennon, Terrance Williams, Terron Armstead, Keenan Allen.

Good pick or bad pick? Good. Best possible? A few of the guys taken right after Logan look pretty good, too.

Barkley
Fourth round: Matt Barkley, quarterback, USC. The Eagles traded up to take Barkley at the top of the fourth round. It seemed an odd move at the time -- everyone thought Kelly would prefer more mobile quarterbacks -- and is still easily debatable.

It wouldn’t be fair to read too much into Barkley’s limited playing time. He was pressed into service when Nick Foles and then Michael Vick were injured. Barkley had little practice time to draw upon. He threw four interceptions and zero touchdowns in 49 attempts.

If he’s the No. 2 quarterback here or eventually flipped to another team looking for a potential starter, he was worth the 98th pick in the draft. If he winds up starting here some day, he was a steal.

Also on board: Nico Johnson, Akeem Spence, Ace Sanders, Josh Boyce, Ryan Nassib.

Good pick or bad pick? Curious pick.

Wolff
Fifth round: Earl Wolff, safety, NC State. By this point in the draft, there’s an element of luck involved. The Eagles desperately needed safety help and took a shot on Wolff with the 136th pick. It was a good shot.

Wolff took the starting job from veteran Patrick Chung early in the season. He had his growing pains, but was starting to settle into the job when he hurt his knee Nov. 10 in Green Bay. Wolff made one brief appearance after that, aggravated the knee and didn’t play again.

Also on board: Jesse Williams, Tharold Simon, Montori Hughes, Stepfan Taylor and Oday Aboushi were the next five players taken.

Good pick or bad pick? Good pick.

Seventh round: Joe Kruger, defensive end , Utah. He spent the season on injured reserve. Should be an interesting guy to watch in training camp.

Seventh round: Jordan Poyer, cornerback, Oregon State. Poyer made the team coming out of camp, but was released when the Eagles needed to clear roster space for a running back in October. Cleveland claimed Poyer off waivers and he finished the season with the Browns.

Seventh round: David King, defensive end, Oklahoma. Released in camp.

Also on board: A bunch of guys.

Good picks or bad picks? Oh, come on.
PHILADELPHIA -- Bad drafts don’t happen in a vacuum, and neither do good ones. The Eagles’ 2013 draft class is an example of what it looks like when everything -- scouting, drafting, coaching, development -- works the way it is supposed to.

The Eagles took tackle Lane Johnson with the fourth pick in the draft, tight end Zach Ertz in the second round and defensive tackle Bennie Logan in the third. All three were contributors in their first season and look like very good choices.

[+] EnlargeZach Ertz
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsZach Ertz and the other top picks in the Eagles' 2013 draft class were valuable contributors during their rookie seasons.
But what if they had taken defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who excelled in Carolina, in the first round, then took linebacker Kiko Alonso in the second round and either cornerback Tyrann Mathieu or offensive tackle Terron Armstead in the third?

The point isn’t that, with hindsight, the Eagles should have done that. The point is that there are different ways to assemble the puzzle pieces for a good draft. And the larger point is that a draft class can sink or rise depending on the coaching that it gets.

For a number of reasons, the Eagles under Andy Reid lost that hands-on teaching and development element. Were the 2010 (Brandon Graham, Nate Allen) and 2011 (Danny Watkins, Jaiquawn Jarrett) draft classes really as bad as they looked? Or were all those players undermined by the dysfunction that had crept into the NovaCare Complex – constant change at defensive coordinator, Jim Washburn’s wide 9 defense, Howard Mudd’s idiosyncratic offensive line approach, etc.?

Case in point: If the Eagles had taken safety Earl Thomas or defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul instead of Graham in the 2010 first round, would they be the players they became in Seattle and New York? Or would they have the same lost look on their faces that became common among Eagles defenders in the Juan Castillo era?

The Eagles weren’t alone in ranking Watkins as a first-round pick. Was everyone in the NFL that wrong, or was Mudd precisely the wrong guy to coax the best out of a raw rookie from Western Canada? Maybe a little of both.

Chip Kelly and his coaching staff helped make this 2013 class look good, and there’s proof. Kelly’s staff also made the 2012 class better. Fletcher Cox improved steadily as he made the transition to the 3-4 defensive techniques. Mychal Kendricks grew into a turnover machine. Vinny Curry may not really fit the new system, but he was productive when used as a pass-rusher in defensive coordinator Bill Davis’ defense. Brandon Boykin was a revelation playing nickel cornerback.

You might have heard that Nick Foles had a pretty good year.

Like Reid, Kelly brought in a bunch of smart, energized teachers for his position coaches. Over time, Reid’s group aged and moved on. Kelly’s staff is just about to hit its stride here.

“Now that we've got at least a year of experience, it'll be a little bit different here in the offseason,” Kelly said. “We're all not living in a hotel and spending basically 20 hours a day here because we've got nowhere else to go. There's a lot of differences to it. ... I think we've laid a foundation, but you've got to build something upon that foundation.”

A little later, a look at the 2013 draft class.

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