When Jason Kelce was thrown head-first into the deep end last summer, he found a way to tread water. But now, with the benefit of a full offseason, the goal for the Eagles' second-year center is not only to become a great swimmer, but for him to be the first one into the water.
As a rookie without any offseason to speak of prior to training camp, Kelce was nonetheless installed as the starting center. Of course, Kelce more than held his own, though he acknowledged that it took about four games for him to really find his NFL sea legs. This season, Kelce will take on the added responsibility of setting the tone for the offense at the line of scrimmage.
"Last year, my involvement in the protections was just to get us started," Kelce said. "Whatever the rule was for the week, whatever the rule is for the protection for a given opponent, I would get us started. It was (Michael Vick's) job to make the corrections and to make the audibles if that first initial play was off or if the defense was giving us something we weren't expecting. Now, they're giving me a little bit more leeway to make those corrections right out of the bat so that we're not eating up as much time off the clock, we're not having to make me make a call that Mike has to change. We're trying to eliminate as much of that as we can."
The Eagles offense can now afford to place that onus on Kelce because of the full offseason at his disposal. Kelce has been hard at work with Vick in the film room, going over the variety of options likely to come into play during the season. After last week's Organized Team Activities, with another round on the way this week, Kelce can also get on-field training.
"It's very beneficial," Kelce said. "An offseason I think for any position where a lot of mental duties are involved is important, whether it's the quarterback, the center, the middle linebacker on defense or the safeties. Those guys have to know mentally the offense and defense in and out to be able to make adjustments and be able to make corrections as the game goes along. We're so far ahead of where we were last year that it's ridiculous.
"Everything isn't just thrown on you all at once. Right now, we're just basically starting from scratch, we're learning everything over. The difference is this time I already know the basics and now I can pay attention to the little nuances and minor details that can make a big difference over the course of a season."
As for last year, Kelce says he had a rookie learning curve he felt took him to an acceptable level by week four. But it was the post-bye Week 8 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field in which Kelce took his biggest step forward, holding Pro-Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff to a lone tackle.
"Fourth game of the season it really started to click for me," said Kelce. "I think the game that I made the most progress in was the game where we played Dallas at home against Jay Ratliff, which was after the fourth week but that game, that was the toughest opponent I had ever played against and I really felt like I got a grasp of the offense, got a grasp of the adjustments that need to be made. That was the turning point for me last season.
"It was amped up because everybody here was telling me he's a really good player and this is kind of the best that I'll face. Any time you're going up against one of the guys that's considered the best in the league, you're going to be excited to play. Those are the guys you want to play against. Even though it's going to be tougher for you, that's the reason you play the game at a high level, to prove yourself against the best there is."
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