Philadelphia Eagles News

Working Combinations On O Line

It is a work in progress, as expected. The challenge for the coaching legend is cramming all of his experimentation into the next five weeks, in time for the season opener in St. Louis. Mudd has been moving his pieces all around the line at Lehigh University. Who settles where?

The only certainties, it appears, are on the left side of the line with Jason Peters at tackle and Todd Herremans at guard. Jamaal Jackson would seem to be first in line at center, but rookie Jason Kelce has worked in on the first team these last couple of days. At right guard, it seems only a matter of time -- and practice reps -- until Danny Watkins has that job cemented. He took some reps with the starters on Wednesday and looked good.

Right tackle is the interesting spot, the concern flash point. Who is it? If the Eagles lined up tomorrow and played, who would start at right tackle? It could be King Dunlap, who played well in fill-in duty last season. It could be Austin Howard, although Dunlap appears to be ahead of him on the depth chart. It could be Herremans, who would slide to tackle from left guard.

And in two weeks it could be Ryan Harris, signed on Tuesday after a four-year career in Denver. He can't practice until the Collective Bargaining Agreement is ratified, but when he does Harris knows he has a big job in front of him.

"I have a lot to learn and I'm excited to do that," he said. "I've been in the league long enough to know that football is football. There are great players on every snap of the ball. I am here to help this team win, in whatever role that is. It's a good fit for me."

Mudd at least has a working knowledge of the talent he has on hand, having spent the last week force-feeding his technique to the offensive linemen who spent nearly five months wondering exactly what Mudd would ask of them. Each of the players came to camp, in Mudd's mind, with a blank slate.

Day by day, they are making an impression.

"He is demanding, a perfectionist," said Herremans. "He gets on you if he needs to. The big thing with him is teaching us what he wants us to do. We all have to work together and do the same thing to make this work."

Mudd has worked on overhaul projects before, but he hasn't had so little time to do so. The Eagles have fortified the situation in the last few days, signing free agents Harris and guard Evan Mathis and signing Watkins. Right now, Mudd doesn't seem to know which way he would go for a starter at three positions.

This much is clear, though: He isn't afraid to throw his rookies into the mix. Watkins took some first-team reps on his first day of practice, and fellow draft picks Julian Vandervelde and Kelce have worked in with the starters.

Clearly, improving the offensive line is of utmost important around here. Winston Justice is recovering from knee surgery in the offseason and there is no telling when he will step back onto the practice field. Not having the right tackle spot solidified is the primary question mark, but center remains a question mark, too.

Nobody seems particularly concerned, especially with all of the confidence Mudd inspires.

"He's definitely great and you see right away that he knows what he wants," said Herremans. "He coaches things a certain way, his way. He has had a lot of success, so you have to trust in what he is teaching. I think everybody buys into it. Why not? He's one of the best offensive line coaches ever."

What is the timetable to have the line established and etched in stone? September 1 would be a nice, round number. Injuries are one consideration, and the pace at which Watkins matures is another. Then there is the Harris question. Once upon a time, Harris was an up-and-coming young offensive tackle in the league. Now, he is coming off an injury-plagued last couple of seasons there and is hoping to re-establish himself in the league.

Harris, as improbable as it would have sounded even a week ago, looms as a key figure here. All of them do. Mudd has a bag of players that he is shaking, understanding that in a matter of five weeks the Eagles are going to line up with their five best offensive linemen ready to go in the den of noise in St. Louis.

Fun stuff. The offensive line is a work in progress, as it is with most teams in the league right now. Mudd is in charge, juggling a lot of question marks, in the midst of a great challenge knowing that as the offensive line goes, so goes this offense.

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