Behind every great offensive line is a great coach who understands what he's working with, plays to the strengths of his linemen, and who knows when to push and when to pull in order to get the most from his men up front.
The great offensive line coach of the Eagles is Jeff Stoutland, who along with his assistant Roy Istvan, has some real work to do in the weeks ahead: The Eagles have new starters at two positions along the offensive line, something Stoutland hasn't had to deal with in many seasons. Additionally, the Eagles have a handful of young players they need to develop quickly to provide depth behind the projected five starters – Andre Dillard at left tackle, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Jason Peters, and Lane Johnson, left to right.
What you get from Stoutland in every circumstance is a great deal of confidence and an almost-welcomed feeling of a challenge. With second-year man Dillard at left tackle and veteran Peters moving from left tackle to right guard to replace Brandon Brooks, the Eagles must come together quickly in a short period of time.
Stoutland, who's been here since 2013 and who has been coaching offensive lines for nearly 40 years, has every bit of belief that the line will be outstanding. The precedent has been set, of course, most recently last season when three players – Kelce, Brooks, and Johnson – made the Pro Bowl. Stoutland acknowledged that it's "a tremendous loss" that Brooks went down in the spring with a season-ending torn Achilles tendon, but the Eagles feel they have enough to replace him, starting with Peters, who one day will have his ticket punched to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
First, though, is a stop at right guard.
"I think that this is going to be great for Jason Peters. It's just another challenge for him. I think that he's had to play the toughest position on the O-line, maybe in the whole offense, for a lot of years, playing left tackle, blind side, being out there on his own, man on an island, one-on-one blocking all day. So, that's a hard job, OK? I think this can really help us," Stoutland said. "Number one, he knows me, he knows how I coach, he knows our terminology. You have to know what the guard is doing on every play. You played next to him. You were a tackle. With all of these things being said, I think he brings a lot of value to the organization, to our offense, and so, to me, for those reasons, I think this is absolutely the best move."
Then there is Dillard, the team's first-round draft pick in 2019 who started three games at left tackle when Peters was injured.
"You see the change of direction. You see the foot and body quickness. I absolutely have identified the areas with him that we need to improve on and I would say that the one thing that he has done a great job of is his strength," Stoutland said. "He has absolutely improved in his strength department. He needed to."
For the young players, Stoutland says that third-year tackle Jordan Mailata was a "different" person in the virtual meetings in the spring with more command of the assignments and if he carries that onto the field, then the Eagles are going to have some "action," which is a good thing. Stoutland thinks that third-year guard Matt Pryor has made "the biggest jump, just in his developmental, in his training, pushing himself, getting himself in great shape."
There is another handful of young players including Nate Herbig and Sua Opeta who were on the team last season, along with draft picks Jack Driscoll and Prince Tega Wanogho. Stoutland says he's been impressed with that group's retention of what they've learned in the spring and in the classrooms of the NovaCare Complex, carrying their knowledge out to the walkthroughs the team has been able to conduct.
It's early, but it's late at the same time. The offensive line is a coordinated symphony of consistency historically built through repetition. There are only so many reps to be had between now and September 13. Time is ticking. Stoutland isn't pressing. He's not overwhelmed.
The Eagles have changes up front and they have a challenge of syncing quickly. Led by Stoutland, the veteran who is one of the best in the modern day of building greatness along the offensive line, the Eagles fully expect to be ready to go when the regular season begins, just as they are every season.