Healthy offensive line could mean everything for Eagles

Getting all their injured starters back could mean headaches for all opponents.

Healthy offensive line could mean plenty of points for Eagles

PHILADELPHIA

— None of Chip Kelly's offensive innovations will work this season without sound quarterback protection and at the line of scrimmage.

That said, the new Philadelphia Eagles coach could not have reasonably expected a better group with which to start and build.

Left tackle Jason Peters (ruptured Achilles tendon), center Jason Kelce (ACL surgery) and projected right guard Todd Herremans (foot) each missed all or most of last season rehabbing injuries while the end of the Andy Reid era unraveled in horrifying slow motion, the carnage too voluminous for even the most grizzled observers to watch all the way to the end.

The final results included 37 turnovers (resulting in 140 points), the lowest yards-per carry average (4.2) for running back LeSean McCoy since he became a full-time starter in 2010 and a disastrous year for quarterback Michael Vick (204-for-351, 2,362 yards, 12 TDs, 10 interceptions, 78.1 QB rating, 28 sacks in 10 games).

McCoy also lost as many fumbles (three) as he did in his first three seasons combined, while rookie Bryce Brown matched that total despite having barely more than half as many touches.

A line with drastically reduced firepower certainly was not exclusively to blame for all of the above, but it likely contributed more heavily than any other factor. Furthermore, it adversely affected the defense.

Bottom line: The players all know what a healthy offensive line will mean to this offense, which has the potential to be a juggernaut no matter which quarterback is plugged in at the end of the preseason.

The Eagles, who will hold their first full-squad practice of training camp on Friday at the NovaCare Complex, will have a fully healthy offensive line for the first time since 2011. It seems nobody can wait to see how it affects all the other moving parts.

"I don't want to get into that too much because we haven't been out there," Kelce said, "but ... I think our offensive line has a really good opportunity to be very good.

"I think we have probably the most athleticism [in] the league, if you look around. And in this offense, with the way Jason Peters, Evan Mathis and Todd have all played before, the potential you see out of Lane Johnson, I think the offensive line really could be a big strength this year."

"I think the running game and passing game complement each other," Herremans added. "And I think we'll have plenty of opportunity to do both as we go on. ... I think that our running game should probably be second to none."

This will not be a smash-mouth unit, however. Although Kelly is expected to count heavily on a running game (much to the fans' delight), the concept will be to run out of the spread, taking advantage of openings that may exist before the snap and then simply tweaking them with blockers who can expand them with quickness and technique for a back like McCoy, whose strengths are vision and improvisation.

"Obviously we have to play some games with this offense," Kelce said. "We have some athletic guys who can move in this zone-read and stuff like that. As long as you can spread the field out, there should be a lot of holes.

"We'll see once we actually start moving against players and pads and everything how it shakes out. But I think I speak for all the offensive linemen when I say we're excited to work in this system."

The irony is that Howard Mudd, the primary architect of this group, won't be around to enjoy whatever spoils come of it. Hired as offensive line coach in 2011, he retired after last season.

But his fingerprints are still all over this group, which was assembled with the philosophy of athleticism over size.

This year could be when it all comes together for the line.

Actually, there should be no doubt. As long as the Eagles can stay relatively healthy up front, they will have an extremely potent offense.

More important than the over-hyped quarterback competition is the protection. This offense has the pieces everywhere else to explode if the blocking can get back to the level it achieved by the end of 2011.

If not, it won't matter who the quarterback is.

nick.fierro@mcall.com

610-778-2243

mc-eagles-offensive-line-0725-20130725
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