In two seasons as Alabama's offensive line coach, Jeff Stoutland won two back-to-back BCS National Championships. Most coaches would call that the very definition of a "dream job," but Stoutland wanted more – he wanted to coach in the NFL. Still, he wasn't going to leave a successful program for just any NFL gig. So when Eagles head coach Chip Kelly called and asked Stoutland to bring his services to Philadelphia, Stoutland didn't hesitate.
"When you're at a place like the University of Alabama, that's a hard place to leave," Stoutland said. "This was absolutely the right place when Coach (Kelly) called. And I knew that the minute he called ... It all happened really fast, and I'm just excited that I'm here."
In a coaching career spanning nearly 30 years, Stoutland has seen many of pupils make their way to the NFL, including Broncos starting tackle Orlando Franklin and Eagles 2011 draft pick Brandon Washington. It's Stoutland's ability to teach and simplify the game that made Kelly sure he was getting the right man for the job.
"I think Jeff, simply, is a creative, cutting-edge, offensive line coach with old-school toughness," Kelly said. "He's extremely intelligent. He has a way of making complex things simple, but he also has an edge to him."
Stoutland inherits a group that, when healthy, features some of the best players on the team. Left tackle Jason Peters was widely considered the best left tackle in football before suffering an Achilles injury that prevented him from playing in 2012. The line also features young up-and-coming center Jason Kelce and reliable veteran Todd Herremans, both of whom finished last season on Injured Reserve.
But when they're on the field together, the Eagles' line has shown that it's a force to be reckoned with. In 2011, running back LeSean McCoy ran for 1,309 yards and a franchise record 17 touchdowns. This was thanks, in large part, to the talented and athletic line that included Peters, Herremans, Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis.
While Stoutland acknowledged that he is still going through the film on his current players, he does have a very good idea of what he's looking for in a lineman. After all, he's made a career out of molding talented young prospects (three of his Alabama linemen are expected to be drafted in the first two rounds come April). Over the past few years, the Eagles have had both smaller and more athletic linemen, as well as bigger, road-grading types. Which does Stoutland prefer?
"It's a big man's game as an offensive lineman," he explained. "I think athletic is great. Explosive is great. Defensive linemen are too fast nowadays, too quick ... So whoever that person is, they better be athletic and they better be explosive."
The specifics of Kelly's offense remain a mystery, but the X's and O's won't count for much if the Eagles' offensive line isn't blocking well. That job has been entrusted to Stoutland, who will look to get the most out of a talented group of linemen that will no doubt be looking to bounce back after a tough campaign last season.
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