Jeff Stoutland never relaxes, never takes a thing for granted. When things are going well, he wants more. When he faces tough times, Stoutland digs in deeper. The challenge, he has said many times, is preparing for every scenario.
He's got a scenario now that is familiar with every NFL coach: Injuries are impacting the Eagles' offensive line and Stoutland has to make adjustments with his personnel and play to the strengths of those on the field.
"I think that every day when we're working together," Stoutland said earlier this year, "we work with each individual and try to make him the best he can be for that time when his number is called. For anyone who has been in this game, you prepare to play. You expect the unexpected in this business. Every player on this roster has to be ready to do his job."
Stoutland and the Eagles, then, are going to continue that approach this week as they turn their attention toward the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday's opponent at Lincoln Financial Field. The offensive line, a source of strength for the team heading into the 2021 campaign, has absorbed significant hits in the last couple of weeks that once again force Stoutland into the "prepare the next man up" mode every coach faces in his career. To recap ...
• Right guard Brandon Brooks, a three-time Pro Bowl player, suffered a strained pectoral muscle in the 17-11 loss to San Francisco and is currently on the Injured Reserve list. There is no timetable for his return, but the hope is that Brooks returns in 2021.
• Left tackle Jordan Mailata was injured in practice last week when his right leg was rolled up on and he was inactive for Monday's game at Dallas. Head Coach Nick Sirianni said he hoped that Mailata would return "sooner than later," but there has been no update.
• On Monday night, left guard Isaac Seumalo, the unheralded starter on a line that has been so good when healthy, suffered a Lisfranc injury as he was setting for pass protection and on Tuesday he was placed on Injured Reserve. His season is over.
So, here we are again. The NFL is not a forgiving place and it is not territory for teams unprepared for injuries. The Eagles, fortunately, have depth along their offensive line, partially developed in 2020 when there were 13 different starting combinations in 16 games because of an injury bug that kept biting. They're going to need every bit of that to continue the high level of play in the trenches that the Eagles have enjoyed for so many seasons.
In Brooks' place, the Eagles are starting rookie Landon Dickerson. He made his starting debut on Monday night and should only improve as his rep count increases. A second-round draft pick in the spring, Dickerson had exactly zero reps in Training Camp and in the joint practices and the three preseason games before seeing his first action against the 49ers. He is a young player the Eagles are extremely high on, and the team is excited to see him make progress.
With Seumalo out, the Eagles turned to Nate Herbig against Dallas and could continue in that direction. They also have opened the 21-day practice window for second-year man Jack Driscoll, a versatile player who spent the first three weeks of the season on IR after impressing in 11 games, with four starts, as a rookie. Driscoll played both tackle spots last season and has expanded his repertoire to play the guard positions, so he is an invaluable piece in the offensive line puzzle.
In Mailata's place on Monday night, the Eagles started 2019 No. 1 draft pick Andre Dillard, who helped set the pocket at Jalen Hurts' blind side. Dillard rebounded from summer injuries to finish strong heading to the regular season and the Eagles have all the confidence in the world in him in that position.
The injuries aren't ideal, of course, but they are part of the game in the NFL. Stoutland knows it as well as anyone. He isn't going to do anything out of his normal routine of preparing his players, all of the healthy ones, to play on Sunday against the Chiefs.
"We're teachers at the end of the day," Stoutland says, "and my job is to get these players ready to play. It's that simple. You are here to play football and, no matter what your role is, you know it can change at any time. You have to be ready when your number is called."