The offensive line has been a position in flux this season, which made the news of right guard Danny Watkins' injury that much more difficult to hear. But in his stead, rookie Dennis Kelly showed promise and reason for optimism going forward.
Kelly was asked to step in at right guard during practice last week after Watkins was unable to practice with an ankle injury. And when Watkins was listed as doubtful on Friday, Kelly was in line for the first start of his career. Making the start at guard was a change for Kelly, who was a left tackle at Purdue, but it only took him a few minutes to get acclimated to the game.
"Once you get past the first play or the first series the butterflies get out and you realize you're playing the same game that you've been playing for awhile, you just might be in a different spot," he said. "You just got back to coaching and what they tell you do to and just go with it."
The game didn't go the way the Eagles had hoped, but Kelly was one of the bright spots. He was able to hold his own against the Falcons' interior pass rush; and for that he earned the praise of head coach Andy Reid.
"Actually, Kelly did a good job," Reid said on Thursday. "That was a respectable job that he did, particularly for his first shot and then playing against a really good player. Can he do things better? Yeah, he will. He's a rookie, so he'll get better."
While it was his first start, Sunday wasn't Kelly's first experience playing guard. Kelly spent the summer alternating between guard and tackle, and in the preseason he played inside against the Steelers. Though his natural position is tackle, Kelly credits his versatility to offensive line coach Howard Mudd's scheme. Kelly said it allows him to use his natural abilities to be successful inside.
"It's definitely different," he said. "But with Howard's system, there are a lot of similarities. Obviously you're much more aggressive and you're in smaller space, so that's the biggest difference ... I took the techniques that Howard has been preaching, and I think executed them well."
The Eagles were unable to generate much offense against the Falcons. For the fifth time in seven games, the Eagles failed to score more than 20 points. While Kelly acknowledged that the offense has plenty of room to improve, he also noted the importance of making plays in crucial situations.
"The way I see it is when we did poorly, they were on important plays," Kelly said. "They'd be on a third-and-short. They'd be in positions where, if we succeed, we'd be able to continue a drive or get the momentum. It was the impact plays we struggled on that ended up being the big difference."
Reid said after practice Thursday that it looks Watkins will "struggle" to play Monday night, meaning Kelly could be in line to make his second career start under the bright lights of Monday Night Football. But Kelly showed enough last Sunday to feel good about the rookie helping the Eagles get back on the winning track in primetime.
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