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Returning The Roar To The Offensive Line

The injuries didn't help. A four-game suspension for right tackle Lane Johnson was, at times, crippling. The offensive line took a step back in 2014, and it's a group that must regain its footing among the league's very best next season.

Having all five starters in the lineup for the entire 2013 season was a rarity, and the Eagles benefitted in Chip Kelly's first year as the head coach. The offense led the league in rushing and paced the NFL in explosive plays. Running back LeSean McCoy topped everyone in ground yards and total yards from scrimmage.

It was a powerful demonstration that helped quarterback Nick Foles reach historic levels with 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions.

And it didn't last.

The Eagles didn't start that five-man group for a single week in 2014. Johnson was suspended for the opening four games, and by the time he returned, center Jason Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis were out with with a sports hernia injury and a knee injury, respectively. By the time they were healthy enough to return to the field, right guard Todd Herremans was sidelined with a torn biceps.

Instead of a single starting five, the Eagles used seven different starting combinations along the offensive line, featuring 10 different players. For a unit demanding cohesiveness to be outstanding, the Eagles were forced into a piecemeal approach for the entire season.

The offense still put up big points and moved the football and, given everything, including the loss of starting quarterback Nick Foles for half of the season, played at a high level.

It just wasn't high enough to reach the playoffs or to satisfy the demands of head coach Chip Kelly.

While there is so much conversation about what the Eagles can do to improve on the defensive side of the ball, the offense cannot be ignored. Kelly's goals are sky high, and his expectations for the offense haven't yet been reached, despite back-to-back seasons of franchise records for points scored.

Quarterback? Sure, that's a topic to be discussed. Wide receiver? No doubt the coaches have gone through the game film from 2014 and are looking for ways to be better in 2015. Offensive line? You'd better believe the Eagles want to make it better than it has ever been, whether that's by having the five projected starters -- Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson -- healthy and playing at the top of their games, or by continuing to develop some of the reserves who had chances to start in 2014 -- Allen Barbre, David Molk, Dennis Kelly, Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner -- or even by adding to the mix in free agency, the draft, or both.

How much of a priority is it for the Eagles to upgrade the offensive line by challenging the starters? Is the age of Peters (who will be 33 later this month), Mathis (who turns 34 in November) and Herremans (33 in October) a concern? Can Barbre come back from his broken ankle and provide starter-quality play at guard and tackle? Is Tobin, a promising player, able to be a high-level starter in 2015 or beyond?

We know how much of a difference a strong, and a dominating, offensive line makes. Look at Dallas and the run the Cowboys had in '14 behind an offensive line that featured three first-round draft choices. Quarterback Tony Romo had his best season. Running back DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing. Both are talented players, but they enjoyed career seasons in large part because the offensive line improved so much and dominated in the trenches.

The Eagles must get back to their dominating ways up front. Putting up the numbers they did with the changing personnel along the offensive line in 2014 was, frankly, impressive. But it wasn't enough to get the Eagles to the playoffs. It certainly contributed to a league-high turnover total and one of the worst touchdown efficiency ratings in the NFL.

And it's got to be fixed to the highest degree. You can talk about quarterback all you want, and you can debate the position profile at wide receiver until the offseason freeze melts into spring, but understand this: the offensive line makes everything go in this game, as we learn time and time again. The Eagles want to be great up front, which will make the rest of the offense fall in line just as Kelly wants it to be.

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