David Molk thought for a moment. Yes, he said, yes there *was *an instance in training sessions in the last couple of weeks when the Eagles put together an offensive line of Andrew Gardner at left tackle, Wade Smith at left guard, Molk at center, Dennis Kelly at right guard and Todd Herremans at right tackle.
"We actually might have," said Molk, the smoke coming out of his ears after the Eagles' 37-34 win on Sunday over Washington at Lincoln Financial Field. "I think that's how we do our blitz drill with the second group. Honestly, that's the exact line.
It certainly was. An already-thin offensive line absorbed some massive blows on Sunday when starting center Jason Kelce was forced out of the game with an abdominal injury three plays into the second half, and then left tackle Jason Peters was ejected for fighting during a sideline brawl involving several members of both teams with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
A line already missing starting right tackle Lane Johnson (who served the third game of a four-week NFL suspension), left guard Evan Mathis (on Injured Reserve/Designated For Return) and key backup Allen Barbre (gone for the season with an ankle injury) was down to its final straw for the second time in three games -- and the Eagles managed to get to 3-0 with the thrilling victory to open the NFC East schedule.
The offense wasn't nearly as effective without those two linemen -- the Eagles scored 16 points in the second half on three Cody Parkey field goals and a 27-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Foles to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin -- but a late-game first down on a pass from Foles to tight end James Casey for 19 yards to convert a second-and-11 play allowed the Eagles to run out the clock with kneeldowns.
"You've got to be able to battle in this league," said head coach Chip Kelly. "To be able to score as many points as we did with that group, it's a credit."
To whom? To everyone, of course. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland deserves tremendous applause for coaching up the players, including Smith who has been here for two weeks, to keep the offense moving despite the spate of injuries.
Going through nearly the entire second half without Kelce, whose condition will be updated later in the week, against a nasty Washington defense was admirable.
"The past two weeks has really been a crash course for me," said Smith, signed after Barbre was lost for the year during the win over Jacksonville. "They prepared me to play. I crammed a lot in in about six or seven days and after that week was over, I was pretty comfortable wiith what we're doing, with the calls we're making. I had to get in there today, but that's your job and you have to be ready to play when I'm called upon.
"We have a group of professionals. There are no free lunches. Everybody who is a backup, prepares as if he is a starter. There might be a slight dropoff from a starter to a backup, but you have to go in there and play at a high level and allow this ofense to function."
Johnson returns after next Sunday's game in San Francisco, but nobody knows at this point in time how soon he will be able to play. In the immediate future, players like Gardner, Smith, Kelly and Molk are ready for the next challenge.
"We go over these scenarios during the week, the worst-case scenarios," said Herremans. "If anybody goes down, what's going to happen, how we shuffle. After we found out Jason was thrown out of the game, we just shuffled around into our spots, went out there and went back to work. As an offensive lineman, you pretty much know the concept of the plays rather than your specific job."
Said Kelly: "That's a credit to Stout. He makes sure everyone knows their assignments just in case something like this happens. Last year, we kind of got spoiled with everyone staying healthy. Obviously, that's a rare occurrence in the NFL. He does a real good job of making sure everybody's ready in case of emergency."
Sunday was an emergency for the offensive line, and the response team did just enough to help the Eagles pull out a critical win in the NFC East.