Back in April, when the Eagles used their first-round pick on Baylor guard Danny Watkins, it was all but a foregone conclusion that there would be a rookie among the starting offensive line come September. While Watkins has worked his way into the starting lineup, and done well at right guard over the last two games, sixth-round pick Jason Kelce is the rookie who has started every game this season. The two first-year players form a solid duo in an offensive line that has excelled despite the turnover, both in the offseason and during the season.
For Kelce and Watkins, the first 10 games, including the preseason, have been a learning experience.
"I've learned how quickly things can change in the NFL and how good each team is," said Kelce. "In college, there are a lot of weeks when you're playing an opponent and they have a guy on the other side who isn't that tough or a team in general that is pretty weak team. In the NFL, every team's got the best of the best on the field, so you're going up against somebody good each week. There aren't any down weeks in the NFL, except for (the bye)."
Eight different players have started games along the offensive line for the Eagles this season, and yet, under the tutelage of renowned offensive line coach Howard Mudd, the Eagles have taken a big step forward in pass protection. In 2010, Philadelphia ranked 26th in sacks allowed per pass play (8.73 percent). This year, they've cut that number in more than half, as Eagles quarterbacks have been sacked on only 4.15 percent of pass plays, good for a tie for fifth in the NFL. And oh yeah, the Eagles also lead the NFL with 170.0 rushing yards per game.
"Shady does a good job of making us look good," said Kelce of LeSean McCoy. "We're not too bad, but he makes some of those (defenders) miss and that extends the play. Having a back like that back there, the playmakers we have on offense are tremendous."
Watkins, meanwhile, weathered the first four weeks of the season when he sat behind Kyle DeVan. After his insertion into the starting lineup, Watkins has added a need physical presence to the offensive line and promises to only improve moving forward.
"There are still a lot of things I need to clean up," Watkins said, "so I just need to keep working away, plugging away at it.
"It started clicking. Everything started slowing down and I've been playing a little faster."
As impressive as the offensive line has been, Watkins and Kelce agree that there's still a lot of work to be done.
"I don't think we're ok by any means," Watkins said. "We definitely can't get complacent with one win. We need to have as good a bye week as you can have and come back prepared to work."
"I feel like the momentum is shifting," Kelce said. "Things are starting to go our way. As we keep correcting things, we should keep getting better and better."