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O Line Ready For New Challenge

Posted Sep 25, 2013

The mistakes, the offensive linemen say about what went wrong against Kansas City, are correctable. That’s good news. With expectations for the line at an all-time high, any breakdowns are not taken well by the guys up front …

Take, for example, the couple of mistakes that came from center Jason Kelce, who normally just doesn’t make these kinds of miscues. One time he thought quarterback Michael Vick lined up under center, rather than in the shotgun. The result was a poor snap, and a turnover recovered by Kansas City that halted an Eagles drive in Chiefs territory.

“I think we did a lot of good things in the run game against Kansas City, and there were things in pass protection that we can clean up and those are things that we can clean up,” said Kelce. “It was never a case of guys in situations where they just couldn’t do it physically. We were just off-kilter. It’s all correctable stuff and that’s what we’re working on right now.

“I usually go by the 24-hour rule after a game. When the 24 hours are up, that game leaves my mind. Not in this case, though. This one lingered for me. It’s not too often a center is directly responsible for a turnover, especially a mental-mistake turnover. It hurt a lot this time. A lot of guys count on you and it’s never easy to know that you let them all down.”

The Eagles’ offensive line is one of the strengths of the team in 2013. The return to good health of left tackle Jason Peters and left guard Todd Herremans, along with Kelce, provided the Eagles were four veteran starters who provide an outstanding foundation, and then the selection of Lane Johnson in the first round of April’s draft rounded out a talented starting five. New line coach Jeff Stoutland has demanded a lot out of the group, raising the performance standards.

Bottom line: The Eagles expect to be outstanding up front, and when there are glitches, as there were against Kansas City, the headlines jump out.

“We shot ourselves in the foot quite a few times. As a group, up front, we need to play better,” said Herremans, who moved from right tackle last season to right guard in 2013. “We have to protect better, especially in situations where they (defense) are playing in ‘man’ coverage and need more time for receivers to get separation.

“But everything that I saw was fixable. That’s a good feeling. At the same time, you get frustrated because you work so hard and you know you have to work a little bit harder.

“Every week I think that our line should play lights out and dominate in the run and pass. There’s no reason why we can’t. It’s nothing that they are doing to us. It’s our own problems, and like I said, they’re fixable.”

Herremans talked about “technique letdown,” meaning he was leaning too far one way, or he didn’t move his inside foot, or perhaps his hands were placed incorrectly. Fixable. All of it is fixable.

This is an offense that spreads the field and relies, at least at times, on five offensive linemen blocking five – or more – defensive players in the box, so the coaches truly show confidence in the players at the line of scrimmage.

Johnson’s development is critical to the process. He’s a supremely talented young man and he’s got a chance to be a great player in this league, but there are going to be times when Johnson has a rough go of it. He started only 25 games along the offensive in college, having played quarterback, tight end and defensive end as well in his seasons as a Sooner.

Everyone who works with Johnson says he is a fast and able learner, and he doesn’t repeat mistakes. Johnson’s approach is to keep working hard and developing his game.

“That’s really the only thing I know how to do, and that’s what I’m doing,” said Johnson. “I’m going to keep working and pushing and trusting my coaches and my technique. I look forward to every game. It’s another chance for me to improve.”

The Eagles offense will only be as good as its line of scrimmage. And the line of scrimmage has been pretty darn good, Kansas City game included in the mix, in the first three games as the Eagles have averaged 26 points and 461.7 yards per game.

This week, Denver’s attacking defense presents a new challenge. The offensive line has to overcome noise, a hyped Broncos defense and the scrutiny brought on by great expectations and some mistakes from last week.

In other words, the offensive line is right where it wants to be.

“We want to get back out there and let it loose,” said Kelce. “We all believe in each other. We know how good we can be if we all keep working together. That’s the exciting thing here. We feel like the sky is the limit for us and this offense.”

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