Should the Eagles decide, after considering all of their options, that their best way to replace a three-time Pro Bowl right guard is to promote from within, they have some options among a group of young players they've spent some time developing. There is still plenty of time before Training Camp opens in July at the NovaCare Complex, but the days fly by and the Eagles haven't been on the field at all in this virtual offseason and, well, everything is up in the air at right guard after the news that Brandon Brooks suffered a torn Achilles tendon and will be out for the 2020 season.
If Head Coach Doug Pederson had a choice, he would line up the players for a couple or three weeks of practice and have Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Jeff Stoutland work with third-year man Matt Pryor and second-year players Sua Opeta and Nate Herbig, and maybe Stout would give rookie Jack Driscoll some work inside, just to take a look. But, alas, there is no choice. The offseason program, virtual the entire way, is completed. And the Eagles won't hit the field at NovaCare for another month, at least.
So much is uncertain, including the next step at right guard.
"I think 32 teams are probably sitting here today going, 'Wow, I wish we had OTAs.' I wish we had a chance to evaluate some of our draft picks and some of our free agents, new to the team," Pederson said on Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. "I don't want to call it a setback, but at the same time, we do have some young players that played for us last year that are going to have to take a big step forward.
"Pryor, he played last year at the end of the season. Herbig got in a game there at the end of the year. And these guys have to understand that there's a little bit of a sense of urgency once we get into Training Camp. Things are going to move fast. Things are going to move fast and we as coaches need to evaluate these players. I have to put them in position to be successful to show what they can do and that's everything that we are in the process of doing right now leading up to camp."
The Eagles have long prided themselves on having one of the NFL's best offensive lines and that's still the intention, but there are going to be some new faces. Second-year man Andre Dillard, the team's first-round draft pick in 2019, is in position to take over at left tackle with Jason Peters still an unrestricted free agent. Right guard is, obviously, a wide-open position with Brooks sidelined.
Who are the internal candidates to replace Brooks? Let's take a look …
Matt Pryor, third season
A sixth-round draft pick in 2018, Pryor saw his first action in '19 with 79 snaps in the regular season and 69, including his first start, in the playoff loss against Seattle. That experience helped. Like, a lot.
"I felt it kind of helped me escalate my game," said Pryor on Tuesday. You can listen to the full interview in Wednesday's Eagles Insider Podcast, as we take a deep dive into Pryor and the picture at right guard. "Of course in practice, you're going against some of the greatest D-linemen in the league … and after a while in practice you kind of get a feel for what you're doing so you can go into a game and take what you learned in practice from being on the 'look' (scout) team and try to get your bearings.
"I still feel like I've got a lot to learn and I'm glad to have so much experience around me on the O-line."
Pryor has spent much of time in the offseason training at "The House of Lane," right tackle Lane Johnson's unofficial workout facility where he has pushed his body to the limit, building his core and his leg strength and drive. Pryor plans to spend most of the remaining time before Training Camp opens working with Johnson training and building chemistry on the field so the two can be in sync when camp begins.
"I'm going to be ready to go," Pryor said. "It's time to take my game to a new level. I know the opportunity is there. You don't like it to happen when somebody gets hurt. We all feel for Brandon. But he will be helping me, as he's done in the past, and I'm going to be at my best."
Nate Herbig, second season
A three-year contributor at Stanford, Herbig entered the NFL as an undrafted player last spring and played in three offensive snaps after making the 53-man roster. The Eagles are high on Herbig, who is a 334-pound player with good feet. He's worked on his strength in this offseason and should grow even bigger and stronger. At just 21 years old (Herbig turns 22 in July), he has a lot of projected growth. But is that enough to earn a starting spot between an All-Pro center (Jason Kelce) and an All-Pro tackle (Johnson)? We will see about that. Every rep he takes in the summer will matter.
Sua Opeta, second season
A standout player at Weber State, Opeta joined the Eagles as an undrafted rookie last spring and quickly earned some attention from the coaching staff. He's a tough guy who mauls inside and who is a good athlete. There isn't much to go on from the outside in an evaluation of Opeta, who didn't make the original 53-man roster, worked on the practice squad for most of the season, and then was promoted to the active roster late in the 2019 campaign. He did not play a snap as a rookie.
Jack Driscoll, rookie
The 145th overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, Driscoll was a tackle in college who could project to the guard position in the NFL. The Eagles like their linemen to play multiple positions, so Driscoll could get reps in practice both at tackle and at guard. He is healthy and eager to get the technique part of what Stoutland teaches, but is there enough time for a rookie to get everything down and contribute as a rookie? Kelce did it as a rookie in 2011 after missing the spring practices during the NFL's work stoppage. It can be done, but there won't be much room for error in late July and August.
Isaac Seumalo, fifth season
Seumalo has been the team's starting left tackle the last two seasons on a full-time basis and he's played well. But he is also able to play on the right side, having played there in college at Oregon State and for two games with the Eagles in his rookie season. It's an option that the Eagles will consider, at the very least. In this instance, all options are on the table.