Eagles Observations: Can the offensive line handle the fast pace?
The Eagles' up-tempo offense under Chip Kelly is great for skill players. But what about the 300-pound offensive linemen?
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There is no doubt the Philadelphia Eagles will be an up-tempo, play-fast offense under Chip Kelly, a skill player's heaven.
So what about the guys up front? How can they handle the speed, the pace, the amount of plays Kelly hopes to get for his offense.
It's one thing to be 210 pounds and play that way, but what about 310-pound linemen?
To help answer that question I went to Eagles left guard Evan Mathis , who also happens to be a thinking-man's offensive lineman.
"We're good athletes up front," Mathis said. "That will make it easier. And we're practicing at this speed, so we will be used to it. It takes time, but when we're in shape, ready to play at that speed, the defenses will be struggling because they haven't worked against it."
Mathis is an athletic 300-pound guard who is coming off two impressive seasons.
There are other good athletes on the line as well. Left tackle Jason Peters , who saw his first game action Saturday night here against the Jaguars since tearing an Achilles' tendon last year and missing the 2012 season, is a former tight end. Right tackle Lane Johnson was once a junior-college quarterback.
"We have the guys to make this work," Mathis said.
The line seemed to have some trouble with the Jaguars line slants and stunts Saturday night, but that was because the Eagles hadn't seen a lot of that this preseason. That's not a man getting beat man on man.
The Jaguars got a lot of pressure on Mike Vick, but much of it was because of confusion up front.
It takes time for a line to come together, and this was the first time on a game field for the projected starting five.
"We will be a good line," Mathis said.
I tend to agree. And it will be an in-shape line as well.
Fatties need not apply for a Kelly-led offense.
•Vick is the starter, and he should be. But a couple of things about him. First, he can still get loose as a runner. At 33, he still has speed to get to the edge. But he ran eight times against the Jaguars, which is too much. That's too much risk. He also makes some really bad decisions at times, which has plagued him throughout his career. Take his ill-advised pick Saturday night. While falling backward, he threw to an area -- not a receiver he could see -- where only Dwayne Gratz was there to pick it off. "The one where he threw the interception, he was trying to throw the ball away," Kelly said. "Hopefully, we can get that stuff out of him. There are times where you’ve got to cut your losses and get us back to the line of scrimmage.” Backup Nick Foles has been impressive this preseason, but starting Vick is the right thing to do.
•The Eagles have major issues at the back end of their defense. The safeties aren't very good. Patrick Chung is a liability in coverage and Nate Allen looks the part but doesn't make enough plays. Rookie Earl Wolff also is in the mix. Kenny Phillips, signed as a free agent, reportedly was cut. Kurt Coleman is also in the mix. That will put a lot of pressure on the corners, who aren't exactly the top shutdown variety.
• DeSean Jackson said the Eagles still haven't shown much of what they will show during the season. "We will tire out a lot of defenses," he said. Jackson will be the big-play threat outside, but losing Jeremy Maclin for the season with a knee injury was huge. That will put more pressure on Jason Avant and Riley Cooper to have good years. The problem there is neither one has great speed.
•The Eagles have a great player in LeSean McCoy at running back. And I think Bryce Brown is more than capable as a backup. The only problem is that Brown is fumbler. He had trouble holding onto the ball last season and he fumbled going into the end zone against the Jaguars, and the ball went out of the end zone for a touchback. Brown is an explosive runner, but if he can't hold onto the football can the Eagles trust him?
•I love young players ready for stardom. Eagles defensive lineman Fletcher Cox is one of those players. He flashed as a rookie playing tackle, but could be ready for a possible Pro Bowl season in 2013 as a down end in the 3-4 scheme.
•Where do the Eagles get the outside pass rush from this season? Shifting to a 3-4 scheme is why they signed Connor Barwin to play outside linebacker. But he had only three sacks last season for the Texans. He did have an interception against the Jaguars on Saturday night. Trent Cole is moving from down end to outside rusher, but he is coming off a down season and turns 31 in October. He has trimmed his body fat to make the switch, but how much does he have left?
•Kelly is far from conventional in the way he does things, which is refreshing. And a lot of it makes sense, such as his views on sleep and nutrition and quick, fast-paced practices. The players have taken to his approach since they feel like there is no wasted time and it will help keep them fresher.
There, I said it
•Vick will be the same maddening quarterback he's been for much of his career. He will put up huge numbers, but he will also turn it over a bunch.
•The Eagles will be in a lot of shootouts. The offense will be fun, but the defense will struggle.
•Kelly's offense will be the most scrutinized the game. But he's a smart man and will make it work.
•The Eagles are one good draft and a good free-agency class from competing for the NFC East title.
•It is so weird seeing the Eagles play live without Andy Reid on the sideline.
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