The second of 10 parts previewing the Eagles’ 90-man roster, as the team continues to conduct virtual offseason workouts.
The Eagles’ offensive line was the team’s top-performing unit last season, except for the much smaller tight end grouping. Clearly, management, coaches and fans expect a similarly strong 2020 O-line, but there is one really big change pending, and age has become a nagging concern.
Who’s back: Every starter except left tackle Jason Peters. Left guard Isaac Seumalo, center Jason Kelce, right guard Brandon Brooks (recovering from shoulder surgery) and right tackle Lane Johnson all should be ready to go, when and if the regular season starts on schedule, Sept. 13 at Washington. Only Seumalo wasn’t a Pro Bowl-level performer last year, and as Kelce has pointed out, Seumalo played pretty well most of the time, had one bad night for the ages at Atlanta.
Suddenly, though, even with Peters presumably gone at age 38, replaced by 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard, this is not a young bunch. Seumalo, 26, is the only returning starter under 30. Brooks has sustained major injuries in the Eagles’ playoff losses each of the last two seasons (has that ever happened to anyone else?). Kelce turns 33 in November.
The bench has more question marks now, with swingman Halapoulivaati Vaitai gone in free agency to the Lions. Vaitai had limitations, but you could line him up at guard or tackle on either side and he wouldn’t kill you. We don’t know that about anybody among the current reserve group. The hope might be that Jordan Mailata becomes Vaitai this year, and he certainly has the tools. But the Eagles’ inability to get Mailata into a regular-season game at any point during his two years with the team is troubling. Mailata’s 2018 injured reserve back injury didn’t have to be season-ending, the team just wanted to stash him on IR. Last year, the plan seemed to be to work Mailata to death in training camp and the preseason to preserve the starters. Mailata sustained another back injury and was gone for the season.
If Mailata isn’t the swing guy, that duty would seem likely to fall to Matt Pryor, the 2018 sixth-rounder from TCU who has played just 79 offensive snaps in two seasons. Pryor is 6-foot-7, 332 pounds and shows promise, but he has a lot to prove.
Nate Herbig made the team as an undrafted guard-center last year and was a favorite project of offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. He was active for just two games. That was two more games than fellow undrafted O-lineman Sua Opeta got; Opeta spent much of the season on the practice squad. Practice squad center Keegan Render also returns.
Who’s gone: Peters is not an Eagle, for the first time since 2009. That’s kind of a big deal. As long as Peters hasn’t signed anywhere – the market for 38-year-old, future Hall of Fame left tackles does not seem brisk – he could always end up returning, but that would really be a prime example of an organization making a decision and then second-guessing itself. Peters is the best offensive lineman in the history of the franchise, so it’s kind of unlikely the Eagles won’t miss him.
Also gone, as noted above, is utility man Vaitai, to Detroit.
Who’s new: Dillard is new, in terms of starting. Dillard takes over for Peters, having shown in limited rookie action that he is as athletic as advertised, but not at all powerful. He got manhandled more than you’d like. Supposedly, Dillard has been working on that out in Washington state. We’ll see how it goes. There also was an undercurrent of concern about Dillard’s mindset, his love of the game. At the pro level, that “love” part, which seems like such a cliche, is so very vital. Especially at the positions where players get banged on and beat up with every rep.
To be really good in the NFL, you have to be fervent about perfecting your craft. Nobody has enough talent to coast. Most big-time busts don’t make it because they can’t embrace the grind, not because they lack tools. Danny Watkins was big, strong and fast; he just didn’t want to be out there, and hated the work. It happens more often than you might think, as the money gets bigger and bigger.
The Eagles reacquired tackle Casey Tucker on waivers from the Lions in April. Tucker was an undrafted Eagles rookie this time last year, who was released in training camp and ended up on Detroit’s practice squad.
The Eagles drafted tackle/guard Jack Driscoll in the fourth round and then took his Auburn teammate, tackle Prince Tega Wanogho, in the sixth. Both would seem to be developmental projects, as are undrafted rookies Luke Juriga, a center from Western Michigan, and Julian Good-Jones, a guard from Iowa State.