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Reinforcements Ready To Fortify O-Line

Posted Jun 16, 2015

Jason Kelce has literally played alongside Evan Mathis more than anyone else in his NFL career. Since Kelce earned a starting job as a rookie, he and Mathis have lined up side-by-side as center and guard. The two became fast friends. And yet, with Mathis no longer on the Eagles, Kelce explained why he expects the Eagles’ offensive line to remain stout up front. It starts with the team’s preparation.

“I didn’t know that it was going to happen this soon, but I think this organization and Chip (Kelly) have made it clear that they want guys that are bought in and whatnot,” Kelce said Tuesday. “It’s unfortunate losing a good friend of mine and a guy that I’ve played with my entire career here in Philadelphia, but he was doing something in his best interests and I think the team in their best interests didn’t want to go in that direction obviously. So that’s just part of the business.

“I think if you look at a lot of the cuts or things that have happened since (Kelly) has been here, the most important thing that we’re trying to establish here, and I think it is established, is a culture. It’s a workplace where everybody’s in this together, everybody’s in this with one another and people look at this like it’s voluntary, and that’s fine, but the fact of the matter is (Mathis) was one out of 90 guys that wasn’t here. So that’s clearly not on the part of the team. Nobody has anything personal against Evan, I still consider him one of my best friends that I’ve had throughout my life actually, but this is just the nature of the business, the nature of what we’re trying to build here and I don’t think anybody feels ill toward Evan. He was doing something in his best interests and it didn’t fit what the Eagles wanted to do.”

As for Mathis’ likely replacement at left guard, Kelce explained why he, the rest of the offensive line and head coach Chip Kelly all have so much faith in Allen Barbre, despite Barbre’s total of one start over the last two seasons.

“I think that you can gauge a guy a lot in practice, especially when he’s going up against our front seven,” Kelce said. “On our team here, we have some of the best D-linemen and pass rushers, I think, in the league. So watching those guys through practice, watching them do one-on-ones against some of the premier talents in the league, Fletcher Cox, one of the best D-linemen in the NFL right now, for him to go out there and hold his own against them, you know he can get it done on Sunday.”

Allen Barbre: It's My Time

Allen Barbre has started just eight games in his first seven NFL seasons, but the opportunity of a lifetime has presented itself in Philadelphia. Following the release of Mathis, Barbre is in position to be the Eagles' starting left guard for the 2015 season.

"This is an opportunity for me to play and I'm going to take it by the horns and go," Barbre said.

Barbre was drafted by the Packers in 2007 where he spent the first three years of his career. He bounced between Seattle and Miami for two years and was out of football in 2012 before landing in Philly in 2013. He came off the bench for an injured Jason Peters against Green Bay in that 2013 season and was rewarded with a contract extension. He opened the 2014 campaign as the starting right tackle and was expected to hold down the spot while Lane Johnson was suspended, but suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the season opener vs. Jacksonville.

Barbre worked with the first-team offense at the left guard spot on Tuesday and said that he "doesn't feel any different" following Mathis' release. Peters praised Barbre and doesn't think there will be any drop-off with Mathis gone.

"Al is going to take his spot for the main part and we're going to keep it rolling," Peters said.

Barbre appreciates the confidence that his teammates have in him.

"It definitely means a lot coming from a guy like that, a future Hall of Fame guy," Barbre said of Peters. "Honestly, my mindset has been going out and working every day. We're just getting continuity together as a group and that'll be big going down the stretch working hard together and understanding their goals and what everybody's doing and holding everybody accountable."

Gardner: 2014 Provided The Foundation

Andrew Gardner was one of the players who was forced to step up and help out as the offensive line was re-shuffled on what seemed like a weekly basis in 2014.

In his fifth NFL season, Gardner logged the first eight starts of his NFL career - six at right guard and two at right tackle. In all, 10 players started for the Eagles along the offensive line. In the wake of Mathis' release on Friday, the Eagles will be counting on those players called into action last year to fill the void left by not only Mathis, but Todd Herremans at right guard as well.

"I think we have a quality group and whomever they end up going with will have a strong line," Gardner said. "I think the room has a great chemistry and a lot of holdover from last year. I think everybody in there is comfortable with each other. We've had a lot of different combinations, even last season, so I personally feel very comfortable playing next to any of these guys."

Gardner netted the first-team reps at right guard on Tuesday, but the spot is going to be hotly contested in Training Camp.

"I want to play. I don't want to just be on a football team. I want to play football," Gardner said. "Obviously, I've been very excited for the opportunity I've had here and to get the opportunity to start last year."

Despite all of the changes last season, the Eagles still finished in the top five in points scored and total yards gained. Good, in Gardner’s estimation, but not good enough.

"It's a testament to the caliber of guys. We didn't let injuries stop us from having success, but obviously we have to set the bar higher this year," Gardner said. "We didn't make the playoffs. The goal isn't 10 wins and not make the playoffs. We've got to improve."

Tobin Is A Man On A Mission

Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland described guard Matt Tobin as a "man on a mission."

The former rookie free agent is trying to establish himself after starting seven games in 2014. He was at left guard for five of those starts, while on the right side for the other two.

Tobin has worked exclusively on the right side this offseason to become more familiar after not playing on that side at all in college at Iowa. He focused on getting stronger this offseason and has set new highs in his max bench press, max squat and other explosive measureables. The key now, according to the head coach, is consistency.

"At times, I think Matt has played really well for us, but I think he needs to be more consistent and not just flash at times, and I think he understands that," Kelly said, "but I think we've got some good competition going there with him and Andrew Gardner and Dennis Kelly and Kevin Graf and the other guys that are at that position."

Tobin has seen time with the first-team offensive line during the offseason. The subtraction of Mathis didn't register with Tobin because "he wasn't working out with us the whole offseason." The depth chart battle remains the same in Tobin's view.

"It's wide open for everybody," Tobin said. "We're just playing musical chairs like we have been all offseason. It's June and we're all just trying to get comfortable in all of the different spots."

Wheeler Welcomed To Philly

Number 69 was on the field Tuesday for the Eagles. No, it wasn't Mathis, but new offensive lineman Jared Wheeler.

On Monday, Wheeler was signed to a one-year deal. He was given a run-through of the entire offense and thrown into the action Tuesday as the mini-camp got underway.

"I'm blessed to be here right now just to have the opportunity," Wheeler said. "I've been through OTAs and preseason camp. I've got that under my belt so I'm a little comfortable."

Wheeler was recruited to the University of Miami by Stoutland, who is now with the Eagles. Wheeler said that he has found comfort in that the play calls and techniques are "very familiar" from what Stoutland taught at Miami.

"He doesn't leave anything out. He coaches everything, the fine details," Wheeler said. "Anything you need questions for, he'll help you out with anything you need. That's a big help on the field."

Wheeler was a rookie free agent of the Panthers last year, but spent Training Camp and preseason in Buffalo. He was most recently with the Seahawks, but was released right after the NFL Draft. Now, he hopes to land a spot on the Eagles' roster.

"It's a little overwhelming, but it's a great group of guys, great group of coaches," Wheeler said. "You get the hang of it and ready to compete. I love it."

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