Next season, we just might see a whole new Jason Kelce.
The Eagles found a diamond in the rough when they drafted the center in the sixth round of the 2011 draft. Kelce won the starting job in Training Camp and was a big part of the surprisingly great offensive line play that year. All signs pointed to Kelce taking the next step in 2012, but a brutal knee injury ended his season at home in Week 2 against Baltimore.
Now, with the Eagles in the process of looking for a new coach and a dramatic change in the locker room, Kelce enters the offseason looking to make his mark next season.
The knock on Kelce coming out of college was that he lacked ideal size for an NFL center. And while Kelce may not have been an ideal fit on some teams, he was perfect for the Eagles' offensive line scheme. Offensive line coach Howard Mudd required quick, athletic lineman. Kelce fit the bill perfectly.
As well as he fits in that scheme, it's possible that the next coach could bring in a new system of his own. But Kelce is ready to adjust – by his count, Monday marked the fourth head coach or position coach change he's been through in the last seven years. And after all that change, he's still a starting center in the NFL.
"Basically, it all comes down to playing football," he said. "There are different scheme things; different coaching points, different frames they want you to look at. But it all basically comes down to the same thing, and that's playing the game."
Pure talent is important, but Kelce knows firsthand how beneficial being in a coach's favor can be. After all, he was pegged from the beginning of his pro career as a "Howard Mudd guy" and quickly won the starting job away from veteran Jamaal Jackson. This time, Kelce could find himself on the other side of that dynamic.
For his part, Kelce isn't concerned. He acknowledged that, yes, he'll have to earn everything he gets next season. But with the old regime gone, everyone will be fighting to prove their worth next year.
"Any time there's a new guy coming in, you have to reestablish yourself and your worth to the team. Not just me, every single person has to do that," Kelce explained. "Sometimes having that subtle change forces guys who have been complacent, who have had jobs for awhile, now all of a sudden they have to reestablish themselves. So every single person on the team is going to have to do that. And I'm prepared to do that now."
Part of that establishment process will go beyond the X's and O's. When Kelce looks around the locker room, he sees a "desperate" need for leadership. His injury robbed him of the chance to take up that mantle in 2012, but he fully intends to step up and lead next season. To do that, he's going to be himself and set an example for the younger players.
"Sometimes vocal guys can spark some enthusiasm and stuff like that, but that's not really enthusiasm. That's more like an adrenaline rush," Kelce explained. "And that adrenaline rush only lasts so long. The enthusiasm, the natural passion for the game, that's how you lead – by doing everything right all the time. And you set that bar so everyone sees that so they replicate him.
"I'm much more a 'lead by example, lead by the way you go about your business every day than how you look talking before the game Sunday' (kind of player)."
Kelce is heading into the offseason with his eyes wide open. He understands there will be dramatic changes. He knows he'll have to step his game up and prove his worth. And to his credit, he's not only ready for that challenge, he's planning to do more than just fit in. If all goes according to plan, the 2013 season could be one to remember for the Eagles' emerging center.
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