Athleticism. Speed. Poise.
Normally, these words would be used to describe the Eagles' potent offense. But what about the team's offensive line?
One of the major question marks throughout last summer was the Eagles' offensive line. Head coach Andy Reid had just coaxed legendary line coach Howard Mudd out of retirement in the hopes that he would turn the team's unit into one of the best in football.
The Eagles drafted guard Danny Watkins out of Baylor in the first round, hoping the 27-year-old would be able to play immediately. Before the 2011 season started, the line shuffled and Todd Herremans was moved from left guard to right tackle. Newcomer Evan Mathis earned the starting job at left guard, and paired with All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters and rookie center Jason Kelce, the Eagles' line became one of the team's major strengths.
However, Peters ruptured his Achilles during an offseason workout and is on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list. His replacement, former Bills tackle Demetress Bell, will round out a line that hopes to improve on its success from last year.
"Everyone knows what to expect (this year)," Herremans said. "We played a whole season together and we just know what to expect out of each other and out of Howard and out of the system. I think that is the biggest difference."
Gone are the days of mammoth linemen opening holes for the Eagles offense. Mudd prefers athletic and aggressive players who can attack opponents. With this in mind, the team brought in players like Watkins, Kelce and Mathis, who fit the bill.
"You don't have to be an athletic lineman, but it certainly helps," Kelce said. "You don't have to be a big mammoth. That's not what this blocking scheme is about. It's about moving your feet, getting in front of people and letting the playmakers make plays."
"It's aggressive all of the time," Bell said. "In Buffalo, I was passive and then aggressive. (In this scheme) you've got to be aggressive all the time."
While the starters enjoy the athletic approach to blocking, the change in philosophy took time to get used to. Herremans said his goal is for the line to reach the level of comfort he had with former left tackle Tra Thomas.
"I always talk to the guys about when I played next to Tra. We barely ever made any calls, just because we knew what we were going to do," Herremans said. "The more we play together, the more it's going to get like that. It's already night and day compared to last year."
"We had a lot of veteran leadership last year," Kelce said. "We were very deep at experience on the team. So for the younger guys, it was easier to come in, not just having Howard (Mudd) but having those other guys to lead us along."
And with experience comes additional responsibility. For Kelce, that means helping quarterback Michael Vick call protections at the line.
"Even last year when I wasn't making those calls, I was still looking for things like that because I still wanted to know what was going on," Kelce explained. "It makes it much simpler for Mike. Meaning that he doesn't have to come up and make every single call; make sure every single thing is corrected.
"A lot of times he can just go up (behind center), and as long as it's not a huge blitz coming he can trust me that I'm going to get us in the right protection. So I think in that essence it's going to be easier and more efficient for Michael, and that's always good."
Even with a new left tackle, the amount of time linemen have spent learning and growing together should pay dividends this season. The Eagles have an offense built around speed, skill and athleticism. They now have an offensive line to match.
"We have a very athletic offensive line, and that is our strength," Kelce said. "We can do a lot of things that other offensive lines can't."
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