Jack Driscoll is used to not being, in terms of football, a household name.
He grew up in small-town Madison, Conn., not exactly a hotbed for gridiron talent. His high school, Daniel Hand, went only 5-6 in his senior year and he was scarcely recruited.
He received only two scholarship offers and arrived at Massachusetts not as highly regarded as other offensive linemen. And even after transferring to powerhouse Auburn, where he allowed only one sack in two seasons, Driscoll wasn’t considered a top-flight NFL prospect.
But the Eagles eventually drafted him in the fourth round, and he impressed coaches and teammates almost immediately. Defensive end Brandon Graham was among the first to publicly laud Driscoll. The only problem: He got the rookie’s first name wrong.
He hasn’t been the only one at the Eagles.
“People will still call me Jake and I’ll say, you know, it’s fine,” Driscoll said this past week. “I just like to fly under the radar, keep my mouth shut, do my work. … Every once in a while, someone will be like, ‘Hey, Jake.’ Just drop the ‘e.’”
His name has been mentioned far more than many would have projected before the season. The Eagles' offensive line has been the most injured in the NFL, which has forced Driscoll and other youngsters into the lineup. He will earn his second career start Sunday with right tackle Lane Johnson out with an ankle injury.
Driscoll will likely be better prepared than he was in the opener, when he found out just before kickoff that Johnson couldn’t play and he would start. He took the first-team practice repetitions and won’t have to worry about jumping in and out like he did the last two weeks.
He has also already faced some of the best edge rushers in the NFL.: Ryan Kerrigan and Chase Young at Washington, Arik Armstead and Kerry Hyder against the 49ers, and last week, the Steelers' T.J. Watt. The Ravens offer more difficult matchups Sunday with Pernell McPhee and Matt Judon.
“Jack has done a nice job, and listen, he’s played all the way back to Week 1,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Friday. “He’s got a lot of time on task. This guy, he’s all about business, and that’s what you like about Jack Driscoll as a young player.”
Taking care of business could be even harder with Driscoll slated to play alongside another right guard. Veteran Jamon Brown, who was acquired last month, will get the start with Matt Pryor being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The Eagles will start their fifth different unit since the season began.. The Eagles will start their fifth different unit since the season began.
Somehow, the group, which has lost Brandon Brooks, Andre Dillard, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Peters, and Johnson to injury, has not imploded. There have been obvious struggles with so much movement and so many inexperienced players tossed into the deep end.
Driscoll, despite Pederson’s optimism, has had bumps in the road. He has already allowed three sacks, five quarterback hurries, and a total of 10 pressures in only 105 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
But his talent is evident. Graham said he noticed it from Day 1 of team drills. It’s why before the Washington game he took it upon himself to encourage Driscoll.
“There were a lot of emotions,” Driscoll said. “But I think one of the things that really helped was, you know, guys on the D-line coming up to me before the game, guys I’ve gone against all throughout camp like BG and all those guys just saying, ‘Hey, man, you’re ready. You can do this. You played against us in practice, we’re just as good.’”
Driscoll said he knew after the first few snaps that he could compete at the NFL level. He has the size (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) and the athleticism, but the mental part was unlikely to be what held him back.
An MBA graduate, and finalist last year for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which recognizes the top football scholar-athlete in the nation, Driscoll has been lauded for his intelligence by Pederson, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, and center Jason Kelce.
“When you talk about being smart, it’s not so much just knowing the plays,” Pederson said. “It’s also anticipating what they see post-snap, when the defense moves and how to take the initial line call and then apply it to the post-snap.”
But common sense helps, too. For instance, Driscoll didn’t allow the pandemic to affect his offseason preparation. When his gym was closed, he worked out at a family friend’s home gym with his brother, Flynn, a walk-on at Auburn.
When training camp neared, he trained in Atlanta to get used to the heat and humidity of Philadelphia and sought out former Falcons lineman Kynan Forney for assistance. And he quarantined himself as much as possible because he knew arriving with the virus would stunt his development.
If Driscoll has an advantage over most other players, it’s that his father, John, played in the NFL. Chosen by the Bills in the 12th round of the 1988 draft, the elder Driscoll lasted only a year in the league before a knee injury ended his career. But he can offer sage advice.
“My dad, one thing he stresses is keep your head down and work,” Driscoll said in May. “I kind of have a leg up in the sense that I had to go earn the respect of my teammates from Auburn. from UMass, and it’s going to be similar now being the new guy and the youngest guy in the room.”
Driscoll has been able to handle playing multiple positions. A right tackle in college, he started off at guard with the Eagles before injuries necessitated a move back to tackle. He could make excuses for some of his early setbacks, or focus on his stiff competition, but the 23-year old is too smart to fall into that trap.
“I’ve always been taught it’s never about them, it’s about me. To an extent that’s true,” Driscoll said. “I just know, when you play a guy like T.J. Watt, you have to be perfect on every set. Every set, every foot, your hands have to be perfect. Otherwise, he’ll beat you for a sack.”
All it takes is one mistake to mar an otherwise clean performance and for an offensive lineman to be singled out. Some prefer the anonymity of the position. Pushed into the fore, Driscoll is making a name for himself, and not for the wrong reasons.
Even Graham calls him “Jack” now.
“I know how to do all that,” Graham said. “Even spell his name.”