This Eagles offensive line will be the toughest coaching test yet for Jeff Stoutland | Marcus Hayes
Injuries and a lack of real depth have left the Eagles thin up front. Stoutland will need to work a few miracles.
Perhaps neither David Edwards nor Justin Skule would be the answer for The Quarterback Factory’s current catastrophic lack of depth on its offensive line. But we know for sure that Clayton Thorson can’t help them.
Thorson, a quarterback they snagged in the fifth round last year, turned out to be a factory reject. The Eagles cut him out of training camp.
The first two tackles taken after Thorson went at No. 167 — the Rams’ Edwards and the 49ers’ Skule — combined for 31 games and 18 starts last season. Both are slated to be backups this season, but they’re low-risk, low-salary, second-year backups with NFL experience who have seen live action for playoff teams in big games. They are, for roster geeks, invaluable. The Eagles could use a couple of players like them.
Instead, they’ve got one lineman who’s so old he played when his Air Jordans weren’t retro. They’ve got another linemen they’re pretty sure they don’t want to play anywhere. They’ve got a third lineman who’s actually never played anywhere. And their best lineman spent the first part of training camp on the COVID-19 list, then spent the last part nursing an upper-body injury, so who knows what sort of shape he’ll be in when the Birds open at Washington on Sunday.
Now, three practices before the opener, Jason Peters, the old head, has agreed to move from right guard back to left tackle, which sounds great, but it also means that the Eagles have just three practices to adjust to a new right guard.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is, while the Eagles fancy themselves a quarterback factory, they’ve sent just one passer to the Pro Bowl in the last eight years. Meanwhile, they’ve earned 16 Pro Bowl spots on the offensive line. If anything, they’re a lineman factory, and line coach Jeff Stoutland is the foreman.
When Chip Kelly stole Stoutland from Nick Saban and Alabama in 2013, he gave the Eagles a gift that does not stop giving. He has been the team’s best coach since the day he unpacked his binders. He turned veterans Brandon Brooks and Jason Kelce into potential Hall of Fame players, made former college quarterback Lane Johnson (who overcame COVID-19 during training camp but then missed time with an injury) the best right tackle in the NFL, and kept Peters running on Bondo and barbecue.
Now, Stout will face his most challenging job in his eight seasons with the Eagles, thanks largely to the failure of the front office to stock adequate backups, preferring instead to employ Thorson and Mack Hollins, and Donnel Pumphrey and ... well, you get the point. None of this is Stoutland’s doing.
At right guard, Brooks, the best offensive lineman in football, is out with a ruptured Achilles. His replacement, Matt Pryor, so underwhelmed the coaching staff that the Birds in July spent $3 million to re-sign Peters, 38.
The plan: Move Peters to right guard. The problem: Second-year left tackle Andre Dillard, drafted in the first round in 2019 to replace Peters, tore his right biceps Aug. 27 and was lost for the season. This upset the apple cart, because it meant that Peters had to return to left tackle. Now, apparently, the right guard spot will be manned by either Pryor, whom they clearly don’t want to play there, or Nate Herbig, a second-year undrafted free agent who played three snaps as a rookie.
Last season, Peters often showed flashes of his peerless prime, but he also he allowed 25 quarterback pressures and committed 11 penalties, a combined 36 total transgressions. That was the third straight full season in which he’s had least that many. He has played just 64% of the team’s regular-season snaps since 2017.
For those reasons, the Eagles let him walk. For this reason, the Eagles called him back:
They failed to replenish the cupboard. This has often, but not always, been the case.
In 2014 and 2015, the height of the brief Chip Kelly era, the Eagles drafted zero offensive linemen. They spent a first-round pick on edge rusher Marcus Smith, a historic bust; a second-round pick on cornerback Eric Rowe, whom they traded for a fourth-round pick a year later; and third- and fourth-round picks on receiver Josh Huff and defensive back Jaylen Watkins, who have combined for 10 NFL starts. Beset by injury and the suspension of Johnson, the line struggled in 2016 when Doug Pederson replaced Kelly.
The Eagles also sought to atone for their irresponsibility in 2016. They drafted Isaac Seumalo in the third round and Halapoulivaati Vaitai in the fifth. Smart moves. Seumalo is the team’s left guard and has started 31 games in the last two seasons. Vaitai became the team’s most versatile backup, started 20 games in four seasons, and this spring cashed in as a free agent with a five-year, $45 million deal with the Lions.
They haven’t been as smart lately.
Besides long-term, fourth-round rookie project Jack Driscoll, Dillard is the only offensive lineman they’ve drafted before the sixth round since 2016. That includes zero (again!) in 2017, when, between the second and sixth rounds, they drafted cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas, receivers Sheldon Gibson and Hollins, and Pumphrey, a running back. None of these players is slated to start this season, the last five are no longer Eagles, and the last two are out of football. In 2018, they drafted Pryor in the sixth round, a guard/tackle who appears to be neither.
They also drafted Jordan Mailata in the seventh round that year. Mailata was an Australian rugby player who had never played one snap of American football in a regular-season game. That remains true.
Good luck, Stout.