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O-Line Takes Game To A New Level

Posted Oct 5, 2016

Brandon Brooks thinks back to the free agency period in March and the interest he received. He had options after playing four seasons in Houston, and he wanted to find the perfect fit. In the midst of making a decision on where to sign, Brooks read texts from Eagles linemen Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson. It made a difference. That camaraderie continues to make a difference for the Eagles’ offensive line ...

Brandon Brooks thinks back to the free agency period in March and the interest he received. He had options after playing four seasons in Houston, and he wanted to find the perfect fit. In the midst of making a decision on where to sign, Brooks read texts from Eagles linemen Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson. It made a difference. That camaraderie continues to make a difference for the Eagles’ offensive line.

“They told me back then to come to Philadelphia because they were building something special,” Brooks said on Wednesday at his locker in the NovaCare Complex. “I think we’ve played well so far. We’ve put in a lot of work starting way back in the spring. Stout (offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland) is a stickler for details and he’s an energetic guy who wants us to be perfect in everything we do. I’m not sure that’s possible, but it’s something we strive for.

“The camaraderie they talked about before I signed here, no doubt we have it, times five. We always push each other and we expect the most out of each other and we’re having a lot of fun. I think you play better and you play harder when you’re having fun.”

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There have been a bunch of factors for the offensive line’s strong play in the three victories. Having all five starters together has been huge. The coaching staff has done a fantastic job of mixing up the play calls and keeping defenses off balance. Quarterback Carson Wentz, wise beyond his years, puts in the hours every day to know, top to bottom, the reads on what defenses are doing and how the Eagles adjust.

And then there is the play of the individuals up front, all of whom have been on point.

“You take it play by play, game by game,” left guard Allen Barbre said. “We have good players here and we have good coaching. We’ve all been on the same page and I think we all felt that it was coming along really well in the summer, in camp. Going out there and doing it on gamedays has been a lot of fun. We’re working well together.”

No doubt about that. The Eagles have hogged the ball on offense, averaging nearly 37 minutes in time of possession per game. The play-calling balance has been terrific, as the Eagles have run the football 96 times (including a handful of Wentz kneeldowns late in games) and have called 106 passes (including four sacks). There has been an equal-opportunity approach to which players get touches.

All in all, led by the play of Wentz, the offense has been remarkably efficient with zero turnovers and wonderful variety. In the trenches, the line has been outstanding.

“Carson’s knowledge and his preparation have helped a lot,” Brooks said. “If you don’t know where your ‘hot’ read is, and things like that, you can get your quarterback killed. We’ve all been aware of what’s coming and how to attack the defense. What we do up front is all choreographed and practiced, step by step. It’s all repetition, and we’ve improved a lot.”

Stoutland is the boss in the offensive line room, and he’s an energetic and caring coach who knows how to get the best from his room. Barbre has thrived since signing with the Eagles in 2013. Kelce made the Pro Bowl after the 2014 season. Johnson is playing the best football of his career through the first three games of the season. Peters continues to play at an extremely high level. And Brooks has fit in perfectly as a nimble athlete who at the same time is a physical road grader In the running game.

“Good group of players and we’re developing and improving every day,” Kelce said. “You need more than five players to have a good offensive line. You need a whole room. You need depth. We’ve added a lot to the group in the offseason and it’s paying off. We all really push each other and that makes everybody better.”

Stoutland didn’t have a lot of options in the most recent couple of seasons when the line faced some injuries. But the Eagles made it a priority to sign Brooks in free agency and they added Stefen Wisniewski to add depth at guard and center. Two draft picks were brought in. Stoutland knows that if he needs to replace a starter – which, as we all know, is potentially pending given Johnson’s standing with the NFL – he’s got quality depth behind the starters.

“I’m always preparing as if I’m going to be out there and in the lineup,” said Wisniewski, who started 77 straight games in Jacksonville before signing with the Eagles. “You learn in this league to be ready to go at all times. Whenever they need me, I’m going to be ready.”

It’s been an excellent start for the offensive line, with a challenge on Sunday at Detroit against a Lions defense desperate for a victory. Brooks feels like the Eagles have the right approach.

“Nobody is getting ahead of things. It’s a long season. We’re just starting the year, so you have to push yourself and the goal is to be better than the week before. We know Detroit is going to be tough. They’re physical and they’re aggressive. We have our work cut out for us, but I think we trust each other and we know we’re going to be ready to go to play our best game.”

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