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Investments Push O-Line Into NFL's Elite

Posted Jun 29, 2017

Preseason rankings mean a whole lot of nothing, but they can spark a conversation as the time drags before Training Camp opens. And here’s a good conversation: Pro Football Focus ranks the Eagles’ offensive line as the best in the NFL heading into the 2017 season. There are a lot of reasons to understand the ranking …

Preseason rankings mean a whole lot of nothing, but they can spark a conversation as the time drags before Training Camp opens. And here’s a good conversation: Pro Football Focus ranks the Eagles’ offensive line as the best in the NFL heading into the 2017 season. There are a lot of reasons to understand the ranking.

"Out of all the offensive lines in the NFL, the Eagles currently have the fewest holes," said PFF's Michael Renner. "Their biggest question mark heading into 2017 is center Jason Kelce, who is a former PFF All-Pro (2013 season) in his own right. They also have dominant players like Lane Johnson, who was the best right tackle in the NFL a season ago when on the field."

“What’s important is that we continue to work hard and develop and build continuity,” offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said. “I’m excited about what we have. I think we have more depth than we’ve had since I’ve been here (2013) but we have to keep at it. It’s a long season. We’ve seen through the seasons that it takes our entire room to play 16 games. It isn’t about five starters. It’s about everyone.”

How good can this line be? There are some “knowns,” specifically the right side of the line with guard Brandon Brooks and tackle Lane Johnson, a tandem that worked so well together last year in the six games Johnson played (the Eagles were 5-1 in those games). Jason Kelce, despite the concerns from the outside, has the full confidence of the coaching staff and his teammates. Kelce’s relationship with Wentz is one based on trust, and they have it completely. Kelce has had an outstanding offseason and will play at 305 pounds in 2017 and is as quick and agile as ever.

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“I think Jason Kelce is an outstanding center. I’m thrilled to have him,” Stoutland said. “He is so cerebral and his athleticism is off the charts. I think he’s one of the best centers in the league. I don’t care what anybody says. He’s a big part in what we do.”

The questions with this offensive line come on the left side, where Jason Peters, at age 35, prepares for his 14th season. Is he able to play at a Pro Bowl level once again? The Eagles managed Peters wonderfully last year and plan to do the same now, with a day off during the week of practice and as much rest during the week as they can find to keep Peters fresh for game days.

At left guard, it appears that the competition is wide open, with veteran Allen Barbre and second-year man Isaac Seumalo primed to battle for the starting job. Chance Warmack, signed in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, is also in the mix and provides quality depth at both guard spots. Stefen Wisniewski is not to be counted out, either, as a veteran presence who can play well at center and both guard spots. Second-year man Halapoulivaati Vaitai is the backup tackle.

In the Eagles’ so-close-but-not-all-the-way run in the early 2000s under head coach Andy Reid, the offensive line was a strength led by tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan. As good as those lines were, they don’t compare to what the Eagles potentially line up in 2017. There is front-line, All-Pro talent in Johnson at right tackle and Peters at left tackle. Kelce has been in the Pro Bowl. Brooks played extremely well in his first year as an Eagle and should be even better this season. Having Barbre and Seaumalo competing at left guard should bring out the best in each player.

And the depth here, with Warmack, Wisniewski and Vaitai, along with either Seumalo or Barbre, gives the Eagles something special. There is another handful of young players, among them tackle Dillon Gordon and guard Darrell Greene, who have talent to develop.

Are the Eagles the best along the offensive line in the NFL? We’ll see about that. It really isn’t about rankings, of course. It’s about winning at the line of scrimmage each week and allowing Wentz time in the pocket to set up and throw, and about creating creases for the bruising runs of LeGarrette Blount and Co.

The Eagles have, in quick order after some offensive line ignorance, allocated significant resources to the offensive line. They are about to realize the payoff when the season begins.

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