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Flexibility At Tackle A Plus For Eagles


With Jason Peters missing every day of practice last week, it was clear that the Eagles were going to have to shake things up a bit up front against the Dallas Cowboys. Peters was officially ruled out on Saturday, but throughout the week, Lane Johnson had flipped from right tackle to left tackle, and the ever-versatile Dennis Kelly had been taking the first team reps on the right side.

Of course, there's always reason for concern when you're All-Pro left tackle isn't going to suit up, and the Cowboys' front is no laughing matter, but on Sunday night the Eagles found a way to quell the Dallas front, as the offensive line gave a strong showing, bookended by Johnson and Kelly.

For Johnson, Sunday's game was his first NFL start at left tackle, but the fourth-overall pick was more than ready for his chance to step in and protect Sam Bradford's blind side, thanks in part to working with one of the best in the business every day during training.

"I think that's what they drafted me for. I know I can play left tackle," Johnson said. "All I need is some work at it, but (Peters) is probably one of the best ever, if not the best. I'm learning all I can from him and he's been a great teacher these past two weeks. Give all the glory to him. He's the best.

"I'm just trying to take the knowledge that he's giving me, and once he wants to retire or whatever, he can pass the torch to me and I feel fine with that."

For most of the night, Johnson was lined up against Pro-Bowl lineman and pass-rush specialist Greg Hardy, but Johnson held his own as the two went toe-to-toe.

"I still have a lot of work to do," Johnson said. "Probably the biggest deal was snap count. I wasn't getting off the ball the way I wanted to, so it put me in the deep end of the pool. It looked good on the outside, but there's still a lot of correctible stuff."

But Hardy didn't line up exclusively opposite of Johnson. He took his chances against the right side of the Eagles' line as well, and Kelly was there to keep him in check.

"I just saw it as another player," Kelly said. "I knew what I wanted to do against him in the pass rush and I felt like I did it pretty well. Obviously I didn't go against him as much as Lane did, so it was kind of a small sample size, but I didn't look at him like I had to change my game because it was him. I already knew what I wanted to do with him."

A fifth-round pick in 2012, Kelly has seen his playing time fluctuate in his four seasons. He started at both right guard (three games) and tackle (seven games) during his rookie season, appearing in a total of 13 games. Over the next two and half seasons, Kelly has appeared in just nine games, but he's used the time in between appearances to hone his craft.

"Coming out as a rookie and starting as much as I did obviously was really exciting," Kelly said. "I think I played relatively well when I was out and tackle as a rookie. Then I had the back surgery and the up and downs last year. So far this year has been a little up and down, but I just take it in stride and try to keep getting better.

"Obviously we had some injuries with Todd (Herremans) and  (Matt) Tobin had his concussion late in (2014), and it's just one of those things where it's going to be frustrating when you're not playing, regardless of the situation. There was a little bit of frustration, but I took that time to get better, and I think that's what has helped me this year, because I took that time last year to focus on my game."

The hope is that Peters will return in the near future, but the bright side of Peters missing time, is that the Eagles have an athletic heir in Johnson to slide over to left tackle, and a versatile chess piece in Kelly who can step in wherever he is needed, and that both have the ability to play at a high level.

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