You haven’t heard or read much about Isaac Seumalo during this Eagles training camp.
There is a reason for that. Seumalo, as he enters Year 4, is an established starting left guard. There is no competition for the spot, no suggestion of struggle. Sometimes, as was the case on Monday, Jason Kelce takes the day off and Seumalo fills in as the first-team center, with Stefen Wisniewski stepping in at left guard.
Whenever Kelce decides to retire – which he hinted at before getting a new contract this offseason – Seumalo is first in the line of succession. Seumalo, too, signed a contract extension this offseason, three years for about $16 million.
Last year Seumalo struggled with snapping the ball in training camp practices and in preseason games. This year his snaps are fine, his mistakes are few. (Wisniewski, on the other hand, has suddenly has snap problems when practicing at center, where he has started 62 games in his eight-year NFL career.)
Sometimes it seems that Seumalo has been here forever – he came in with Carson Wentz, was the first player the Eagles drafted after Wentz, in the third round in 2016 -- and his play down the stretch last year was good enough that it’s a bit surprising to remember that he has just 15 career starts, nine of them coming last season.
“I would say if you ask anybody on the offensive staff, we have a lot of confidence in Isaac,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said Monday. “He’s a guy who has played guard, center, even tackle in the middle of a game, without getting any [practice] reps, and he's very dependable. He's smart. He's athletic. We're lucky to have Isaac.”
Seumalo, who will turn 26 in October, crashed and burned under the weight of expectations in 2017, when he was named a starter ahead of Wisniewski, off some decent but limited rookie-year work. The coaching staff went back to Wisniewski for Week 3 of that Super Bowl season, and Seumalo did not start again.
Last year Wisniewski, coming off Super Bowl LII, retained the starting job, but the offensive line struggled out of the gate. Kelce and both tackles, Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, were trying to play through injuries.
Four weeks in, the coaching staff decided the way to field the best overall unit was to replace Wisniewski with Seumalo. Wisniewski made it clear he thought the decision was based on Seumalo’s draft status, and not on Wisniewski’s play.
But the injuries healed, the line came together, and today Seumalo seems to be what the Eagles envisioned when they drafted him 79th overall out of Oregon State. Pro Football Focus says he gave up 17 hurries last season, which is a lot, but only one sack. PFF charged Seumalo with six sacks in 2017, when he played less than half as many snaps as last season.
Seumalo was drafted three slots before the Colts took offensive tackle Le’Raven Clark, who started just four games last season. At 95th overall, though, the Lions got Graham Glasgow, who has started 43 games at center and guard.
Seumalo was asked Monday if he believes he has established himself. His answer, about how he treats the job now, seemed to give some clues as to why an athletic, intelligent, 6-foot-4, 303-pound lineman struggled so badly early on.
“Not really, man. I feel like during camp … you’ve got to take it just a day at a time. As soon as something happens, good or bad, you just got to move on,” Seumalo said. “There’s another play coming, another practice coming. There’s no time to dwell on what just happened.”
When coaches and teammates talk about Seumalo, they tend not to start off with his work at left guard. They talk, as Groh did, about his versatility. This is something fans and reporters tend to undervalue, but with just 46 players active on game day, an offensive lineman who can play – really play, as in, do a good job, not just line up and lunge – at guard, center, and tackle is a precious commodity.
“Smart, tough, physical, versatile,” right guard Brandon Brooks said, when asked what he thinks of when he thinks of Seumalo. “Super-smart player. The type of player that’s extremely coachable. You only have to tell him one time.”
Playing three positions means taking a broad view of your situation, Seumalo said.
“You can’t be too much focused on yourself,” he said. “You’ve got to be unselfish, do what’s asked of you.”
Seumalo said that in the Eagles’ setup, if you can play center and make the blocking calls, then you understand what’s going on at guard or tackle as well. That doesn’t mean you have the size or athletic ability to excel in those roles, but you do get the blueprint.
“I feel like, at least for me, if you learn center, you kind of get the whole picture. Obviously, there’s little details that go into guard and tackle,” Seumalo said. “You just kind of focus on one thing at a time at each position. It’s not easy, but you just have to have the right mental aptitude for it.”
Center might be Seumalo’s best position, the place where he ultimately will make his mark. Right now, though, he is enjoying playing left guard, between Peters and Kelce.
“I get to play next to the best left tackle and center in the game, so that makes it easy for me,” Seumalo said.
One the reasons the Eagles are projected to be among the top teams in the NFC this season is a solid starting five up front, plus top veteran subs Wisniewski and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, though Vaitai has been the starting right guard so far in camp, with Brooks recovering from Achilles tendon surgery.
Seumalo said the veteran group has meshed seamlessly.
“Especially the starting five, and V’s been here, and played a bunch, Wiz has played a bunch, we’re all just – we’re all cool on and off the field,” Seumalo said. “It’s fun to come to work and hang out and go play ball.”
Brooks, now a two-time Pro Bowler, was here during the times when Seumalo was benched, when there were questions as to whether Seumalo was a wasted pick. But Brooks also recalls playing in just six games as a 2012 Texans rookie, who also was drafted in the third round.
“I think that’s how it goes, really, for most offensive linemen. It’s one thing to play it in college. In the league, it’s a little different,” Brooks said. “Everybody’s big, everybody’s fast, everybody’s talented. It comes down, really, to technique. I’m glad he had the opportunity to bounce back. He’s been playing extremely well, had a great camp.”
Seumalo said that he still is rarely recognized in public. His huge pile of wiry brown curls usually is pulled back in a ponytail when he isn’t in uniform. “They think I’m Big V,” he said.
On the football field, Seumalo somehow stuffs the entire unfettered cascade into his helmet, and swears he doesn’t suffer in the heat.