Jason Kelce's big opportunity didn't start quite as he'd hoped. The rookie sixth-round pick, locked in a battle with Jamaal Jackson for the starting center job, struggled early with a talented Browns defensive line, notably first-round pick Phil Taylor.
On third down of the opening series, Taylor made his way past Kelce, sacked Michael Vick and forced a fumble which would be recovered by the Browns at the Eagles' 18-yard-line. Fortunately for Kelce and the Eagles, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would block the ensuing field goal attempt and return possession to the home team, who would eventually come out victorious 24-14.
Throughout the next several offensive plays, Kelce continued to find his way, adjusting to his first live action against a first-team NFL defense. But as the half went along, Kelce began to assert himself, notably on Ronnie Brown's 13-yard touchdown run in which Kelce blocked his man all the way to the goal line. He showed the athleticism and hustle that many say makes him a prototypical Howard Mudd lineman, but there's also no question that he has a long way to go.
"I'm very tough on myself," said Kelce following the game. "Every game I've played so far, I haven't been pleased with the way I've played. There are some good things I did, but any time you make a mistake, you're always going to be unsatisfied. I don't like making mistakes and I certainly don't like number 7 being on the ground.
"Whenever you see your quarterback get hit like that, regardless of whose fault it is, it's never a good feeling. It's like the bottom of your stomach falls out. So we got it corrected. It won't happen again, let's put it that way."
Kelce wasn't the only rookie starter along the offensive line to have an uneven beginning as first-round pick Danny Watkins had some missteps of his own before the line as a whole rallied together.
"Mike got hit a little too much tonight, that's for sure," said Watkins. "Early in the game we had some fundamental communication errors, just little stuff that we need to get fixed. It's just a whole new process for me and Kelce. We didn't have rookie OTAs or minicamps, so we're definitely still behind the eight-ball."
For Kelce, the focus is not on beating out Jackson – though he did acknowledge the competition, saying the final decision is "up to the coaches" – but rather on continuing to make progress.
"I'm really not going into it trying to become the starter," said Kelce. "I know that sounds weird, but I'm going into it trying to get better each and every day and trying to improve each and every day. That's my number one goal because whether I start or not, I have to be ready to play. And even if I am the starter, if I'm making mistakes, that's not good either. I want to be able to be out there, be comfortable and not make mistakes."
Meanwhile, in his second consecutive start, King Dunlap continued his quest for the starting right tackle job.
"I need to get back and watch the film to know for sure," Dunlap said of his performance." But I thought I did pretty well. You always have to watch the tape to make sure what you really did."
In all, Vick was only sacked once, the forced fumble in the first series, but he was under pressure for most of his night and took plenty of rough hits. It was a game from which to learn for Vick and the offensive line, and the quarterback made sure to declare his faith in, and patience with, the rookie center.
"You can't expect a guy to come in and be a Pro Bowl player in two games. That's just not the way this thing works," said Vick. "You've got so many responsibilities as a center, so many things you have to learn, so many defenses and different looks that you're going to see and that's just part of the growing pains that we all have to go through in this league.
"It's going to take time. It's going to take plenty of reps. It's going to take mistakes. We all learn from our mistakes … We just take pride in what we do at getting better. That's why I think we're going to be one of the best teams in the league this year."