Jeff Stoutland coaches the Eagles' offensive line with every ounce of energy and passion he has, directing his players in the nuances of the methods he teaches. He is demanding, caring and completely confident in the way he conducts his business.
He has long considered the possibility that Evan Mathis wouldn't be an Eagle in 2015 - with each passing day of Mathis' absence from the team's daily offseason training sessions, all voluntary, Stoutland merely focused on those who were in his classroom each day and on the group in its entirety that worked in lockstep on the field mirroring the moves Stoutland taught.
Now that it's official as the Eagles announced the release of Mathis on Friday, Stoutland will continue to do as he's done these last few months. He'll coach Allen Barbre at left guard and Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner at right guard and he'll maximize the abilities of Dennis Kelly and he'll push a handful of young linemen whose names you don't know and he'll do what he does. He'll coach the offensive line and the Eagles will have success.
Coaches live in the world of the here and now. Mathis chose to stay away from the NovaCare Complex since the end of the 2014 season, a business decision that now gives him the opportunity to sign with any NFL team as an unrestricted free agent. Stoutland and the Eagles move on. Head coach Chip Kelly meets the media on Tuesday when the Eagles open their mandatory mini-camp and he will explain the decision to release Mathis.
In the meantime, we can discuss what the Eagles have along the offensive line. They are set at both tackle spots with Jason Peters on the left side and Lane Johnson on the right side. Gardner, with his versatility, is likely the first man off the bench in case of an injury to either Peters or Johnson. There is no better center in the NFL than Jason Kelce, the leader of the line and, really, the offense. David Molk showed last season that he can step in and play good football if Kelce goes out.
How about the guards? Stoutland spoke with great gusto about Barbre recently during the Organized Team Activities, saying he is a "really good player" and that the team has "a lot of confidence" in the veteran. Tobin is a prospect the Eagles have been high on for a couple of years, and he's going to get his shot to nail down a starting job on the right side.
"I feel good about the guard situation. We've got a lot of good players around here," Stoutland said. "Right now it's to find the right person, the right people, to play those positions. There's no depth chart right now. Right now we're trying to find the right mix, so every day it's a different person in there, getting a look at him on film and just evaluating the critical factors as they are in there."
Would the Eagles have released a two-time Pro Bowl player if they didn't feel confident in what they have on the current roster? There is no way Kelly or Stoutland would ever shortchange the offensive line unit, especially with projected starting quarterback Sam Bradford coming back after missing all but seven games of the last two seasons because of back-to-back knee injuries. There is a plan in place here, there is a belief in the players who have been at the NovaCare Complex and there is a vision.
Stoutland is one of the game's best offensive line coaches and the Eagles have placed a tremendous amount of confidence in him. Knowing how the game works, I believe this: If the Eagles felt that Mathis was irreplaceable, if they felt he was a must-have piece, if Stoutland pleaded with Kelly to retain Mathis, then Mathis would still be here. That's usually the way it works.
If the Eagles felt that desperate about the offensive guard situation, knowing back in April and the first two days of May the picture with Mathis, then wouldn't they have done something about it in the draft?
It's fair to wonder how it's all going to unfold. There is significant change up front, what with Todd Herremans in Indianapolis and now Mathis free to sign with any team. Is Barbre ready to be a full-time starter for the first time in his eighth NFL season, at the age of 31? Tobin, who had a taste of it last year with the most playing time of his young career, has to be steady and terrific over the course of a full season.
The Eagles are going to work with what they have on the current roster, they're going to keep their eyes open for ways to upgrade the roster, and they're going to, as they say in the business, roll with the program Stoutland has in place for the offensive line. Maybe it isn't how you thought it would work out, and perhaps you aren't as familiar with the names as you were with Herremans and Mathis, both of whom served the team well.
It's all about trusting Kelly for crafting the roster in his vision, and about believing in the teachings of Stoutland, who has the respect of everyone in the locker room and on the team, and of those in NFL circles. There aren't any who do it better or with more precision and passion that Stoutland, and that's how the Eagles will play it up front this season, with Stoutland in the lead, developing some players the Eagles think are ready to step into prime-time roles in 2015.