Could rookie sixth-round pick Jason Kelce be the opening day starter at center?
This week could very well go a long way towards determining that as Kelce is getting the first-team reps in practice instead of veteran Jamaal Jackson.
"Kelce has sort of earned the opportunity to do this for a period of time and then we will make decisions as we go," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Sunday. "Both are playing at a very high level right now and both are very different. You have a veteran with some great experience that is playing very well, and then you have a rookie that shows an awful lot of talent that has many reps to go through to get to a certain point where we need him to be able to win a ball game. That's where we're at there. So Jason has sort of earned this opportunity to get some playing time and try to get better."
Kelce and Jackson split the first-team reps at training camp, but Jackson started in each of the team's two preseason games. Kelce isn't reading too much into the opportunity to work with the first-team this week as the team prepares for the all-important third preseason game Thursday against the Browns. The starters will get the most playing time before the start of the regular season in this upcoming game.
"I don't think I'm any closer (to starting) this week than I've been since the week of the first preseason game," Kelce said. "They want to see what they've got. That's what I think."
Jackson has been the starting center since the middle of the 2005 season. Named to Sports Illustrated's All-Pro team in 2006, Jackson started 71 straight games until an ACL injury late in the 2009 season. He returned for the 2010 season opener only to tear his triceps muscle and miss the rest of the season.
From a size standpoint, Jackson and Kelce could not be more different. Jackson is 6-4, 325 pounds while Kelce is 6-3, 282 pounds. Kelce said that Jackson has made the transition from playing college ball at Cincinnati to the NFL much easier answering every question he has.
"Jamaal's a great guy. Jamaal makes it comfortable. He wants to be out there, obviously. He understands that they're trying to make the team the best," Kelce said. "He was hurt last year. If something happens to him again, somebody's got to step in."
The first two preseason games gave Kelce a look at something he couldn't see in practice - a 3-4 defensive scheme. More than just working against the bigger nose tackles, Kelce said those games have him the experience to make the calls against the front which they will see 10 times this season.
"Just getting used to all of the calls, checks, everything in that type of defense," Kelce said. "Now, I feel like I've pretty much seen the stuff I'm going to see around the league in the preseason."
Offensive line coach Howard Mudd called Kelce on Friday to let him know that he would get the first-team reps in practice.
"This is your time to show us what you've got," Mudd said to Kelce.
If Kelce wins the starting job, the Eagles would have two rookies on the line on opening day in St. Louis along with right guard Danny Watkins.
"We've certainly discussed that; if they're the right type of players than there's absolutely no problem at all," Mornhinweg said. "(We are) on the road in domes the first two games, all those things. And so, that's why we're where we are right now. We're getting great evaluations. Jason Kelce has a great opportunity here. Jamaal is playing at a high level. So it's really a good thing for our ball club right now with those two players."
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