When it was obvious that Jason Kelce was going to take over the starting center job last summer, the comparisons between he and former Colts and current Packers All-Pro center Jeff Saturday started.
Both are about the same size and are lauded for their football acumen. Neither was a highly touted star coming out of college, in fact Saturday was not drafted. They each sport a beard, with Kelce's taking on a life of its own. Most importantly, they are both disciples of the preeminent offensive line coach Howard Mudd.
However, Kelce said last August that Mudd rarely brought up Saturday's name.
"I'm sure if I ended up playing like Jeff that's what he would want, but he really doesn't reference him as much as I thought he would," Kelce said.
Kelce enjoyed a historic rookie season in 2011. The sixth-round pick out of Cincinnati became the first rookie in team history to start all 16 games at center. Kelce was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team by Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin.
During the season, Mudd broke the silence regarding Saturday and approached Kelce with an interesting idea. Mudd asked Saturday if he would spend a day with Kelce and teach the things that he couldn't. Saturday played under Mudd for 13 years in Indianapolis and earned five Pro Bowl invites, a pair of All-Pro nominations and won a Super Bowl. Saturday was all for it. When Mudd asked Kelce, the eager Eagle responded that he was "absolutely" interested. How many young centers get to pick the brain of one of the best to play the position in recent history?
Just before the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Kelce made the trip from his home in Cincinnati to Indianapolis where Saturday lived. Kelce has displayed nothing but confidence since arriving in Philadelphia, but even he admitted that the thought of meeting Saturday was "a little intimidating" at first. Once he realized how inviting Saturday was, Kelce asked everything from playing techniques and how to watch film to Saturday's playing experiences and his working relationship with Peyton Manning.
"I think what has enabled him to play for such a long time and at a high level is his mental capacity," Kelce said. "I think that he's one of the smarter guys in the NFL. That's something that I'm going to have to develop. I'm not one of the bigger guys. If I'm going to stick around for a long time after I start slowing down, I'm going to have to be able to be smarter than everybody else."
While Kelce is aware and understanding of the similarities to Saturday, he emphatically states that he does not want to be the "next Jeff Saturday."
"I'm trying to be Jason Kelce. I'm trying to be the best player I can be," he said. "I'm going to take every single piece of advice Jeff gave me, let me put it that way."
Mudd was thoroughly impressed with how Kelce conducted himself as a rookie. After a playing career that included All-Pro and All-Decade honors, Mudd began his NFL coaching career in 1974 and struggled to think of a rookie who played beyond his years like Kelce did last season. The name that Mudd finally settled on was All-Pro Kevin Mawae, whom Mudd coached in Seattle.
As part of his development, Kelce will be making the line calls in 2012 which is something Michael Vick did last season. That's not to say Vick will never do it, but this should help Vick on the field.
"He's taking on more responsibility. He understands what we need," Mudd said. "He's taking some pressure off of Mike, making some calls maybe the same calls Mike would have made. He wants to take that head on."
Kelce said he takes great pride in that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg considers him the best young center in the NFL. Last year, Kelce won the starting job without the benefit of a full offseason. With the countdown to Training Camp underway, Kelce can see the difference that the full offseason is having not only on him but on this Eagles team.
"I think the differences between now and when we went to camp last year are exponential. Everything runs smoother, guys are on the same page, and it's just a much different feel. I'm not going to guarantee anything, but I think we do have a very special thing going on," Kelce said. "We've looked very crisp so far through these OTAs and in the mini-camp, and it starts with the Cleveland Browns. I know we have awhile before training camp, but we're anxious to get this thing going."
Make sure to follow us on Twitter @EaglesInsider