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Right Side Of O-Line A Strength

Posted May 23, 2016

It is a ballroom dance of sorts as offensive linemen match footwork and the placement of their hands and coordinate their timing and precision of movement. Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks are working on their synchronization on the right side of the Eagles' offensive line ...

It is a ballroom dance of sorts as offensive linemen match footwork and the placement of their hands and coordinate their timing and precision of movement. Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks are working on their synchronization on the right side of the Eagles' offensive line.

They're doing it by spending as much time together as they possibly can. They sit together at team meetings. They share notes from the classroom. They talk about scenarios and discuss their thoughts over lunch.

We're in May, and there are thousands of reps to go before the Eagles open the regular season against the Cleveland Browns, but both Johnson and Brooks are putting in the work now to make it right for then.

"It's a big focus for me," Johnson said. "I need to know what Brandon is going to be like in certain situations and what his strengths are and then play off of them. We have to be partners and we have to work together to make it all right for us. That's really where my mind is at now. We have a new offense and new terminology and all of that, and I'm learning that. But I'm studying everything I can about Brandon, too."

Brooks was a top priority for the Eagles in free agency after he made 45 starts in 53 games for the Houston Texans in his four seasons there. The Eagles landed Brooks, signing him to a five-year contract and inserted him at the right guard position, giving the offensive line a look they haven't had since Shawn Andrews was in his prime a decade ago. Say what you want about Andrews and the way his career went south after making two Pro Bowls, but the Eagles used their first-round pick in 2004 on an athletic marvel who had the skills to be an all-time great. The team hoped he would play guard and then kick out to tackle for 10 years, or more.

It didn't happen. And when Andrews fell apart, the Eagles tried a variety of solutions with some success, but not enough.

While Todd Herremans was a versatile and effective player in his years with the Eagles, he wasn't a pile pusher. He was more of a linear technician at 6-6, 330 pounds. Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole shared some seasons, but they weren't high-level, long-term solutions.

The Eagles believe they've found a very important piece with the addition of Brooks, a third-round pick of Houston in 2012 (a draft pick acquired by Houston in a trade that sent linebacker DeMeco Ryans to the Eagles). Brooks is 6-5, 335 pounds and he's the kind of athlete the Eagles are looking for up front. He's physical, he's got a nasty streak and he's got the attributes that offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland wants.

"I think he's going to be a big addition, and that's true in every sense," Stoutland said. "You're looking at a massive guy, a physical presence. We welcome that to this offensive line. We want to get after people both in the run game and in the pass game and Brandon can do both. He has the skills and the desire and he learns really fast. He's going to help us out a lot."

The addition of Brooks could have a profound impact on Johnson at tackle and, certainly, Jason Kelce at center. The Eagles lacked bulk inside last season and defenses attacked with some success. Johnson is a centerpiece of this offense, having signed a contract extension in the offseason through 2021.

"He's very athletic and I think we're going to be great together," Brooks said. "Lane can do it all. It's a situation for us where we have to learn as much as we can about each other and see what works for us. How can we complement each other? What is he thinking on certain plays and in certain situations? We've got to work as a team and the only way to do that is to spend a lot of time together and get as many reps as we can and grow in this offense together."

Upgrading the offensive line was hugely important for the Eagles in the offseason and by signing Brooks and adding Stefen Wisniewski in free agency and using two draft picks on the line and signing some young prospects after the draft, the Eagles have, as Stoutland says, "more options" to use throughout the long and rigorous 2016 season. With Brooks at his side, Johnson can become more of a road grader in a power running game if asked to do so. Head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich want to run the ball and they know they need to have success in short-yardage situations as well as in the red zone.

So Brooks and Johnson have to be a perfect pair. Together.

"We're a team, no doubt about that," Johnson said. "I love everything he's doing on the field and off the field to prepare. I'm excited to work with him, to get out there and play our best football together. It's going to be a lot of fun."

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