Early Birds: State of the Roster: Offensive line
The Eagles roster is at the maximum of 90 players after the draft. We'll spend the next two weeks resetting the table and taking a position-by-position look at the Birds as Chip Kelly begins the process of assessing his 2015 squad.
The schedule: May 18: Quarterbacks/specialists; May 19: Running backs; May 20: Wide receivers/Tight ends; May 21: Offensive line; May 22: Defensive line; May 25: Inside linebackers; May 26: Outside linebackers; May 27: Safeties; May 28: Cornerbacks.
What's new: Malcolm Bunche, Cole Manhart, Brett Boyko, Mike Coccia
The Eagles did not address the offensive line in free agency or the draft. That means unless they add somebody between now and the start of the season, the Eagles will have all returning players on the offensive line this year, or one or two from the above list of undrafted free agents.
The Eagles list Bunche (6-6, 320) and Boyko (6-7, 301), at guard, although both could also play tackle. Bunche, a Delaware native who played college football at Miami and UCLA, started rookie camp at right tackle. He was recruited to Miami by Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, so there is some familiarity with his ability and personality. Boyko started 43 games at UNLV at left tackle and received a combine invitation. The Eagles value guard-tackle versatility among their backups, so they will need to show they can play both.
Manhart (6-4, 298) and Coccia (6-3, 302) are small-school prospects that the Eagles targeted. Manhart played left tackle at Nebraska-Kearney and is listed at guard. He's a good athlete, which the Eagles like in their linemen. Coccia is a center from New Hampshire who played in a version of Chip Kelly's offense in college, so he's used to the tempo. His best chance of making a roster is in the Eagles' scheme. The Bethlehem native and long-time Eagles fan is the only true center in the group.
What's old: Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Allen Barbre, Andrew Gardner, Matthew Tobin, David Molk, Julian Vandervelde, Dennis Kelly, Kevin Graf, Josh Andrews
The one name who is not in that group is Todd Herremans. The Eagles released the veteran lineman before free agency, opening a starting spot at right guard. That will be the only change to the starting lineup, unless the Eagles trade Mathis. Don't expect Mathis to be dealt at this point – the team has allowed him to seek a trade, but the issue is Mathis' contract, not his production. It's unlikely Mathis will get a big deal somewhere else. He will earn a $5.5 million base salary with the Eagles. I can't imagine they could get a return that matches the value he presents to the team. So as of now, keep Mathis penciled in at left guard. And that's a good thing, because Mathis is one of the best in the NFL.
At right guard, look for Barbre to start. He spent almost all of last season on injured reserve after suffering an ankle injury in Week 1, but the team is high on him. They signed him to a contract extension last offseason, and they think he can be a starter. Much of their confidence is based off the way he played as a reserve in 2013, including a lot of work in a win over Green Bay. Most of his time had come at tackle, though, so right guard will be a new spot.
The Eagles can feel comfortable about their other three starters: Peters at left tackle, Kelce at center, and Johnson at right tackle. Peters is one of the best left tackles in the NFL and arguably the most valuable player on the team. He's a seven-time Pro Bowler who has played 16 games in each of the past two seasons. He's 33, so it's fair to wonder how many years he can still play at a high level. For 2015, though, that should not be a concern.
Kelce is turning into one of the best centers in the NFL and is coming off his first Pro Bowl season – although he probably didn't deserve it as much last year when he missed four games compared to 2013, when he was outstanding. Kelce is a foundation piece for the Eagles who stabilizes the line when he's in the lineup.
Then there's Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Johnson missed four games last season because of suspension. It's time for him to emerge as a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle. That's what the Eagles expected when they drafted him, and that's what they could get if he's in the lineup for a full season. Johnson showed flashes throughout 2014 – especially the Thanksgiving game against Dallas.
The depth should be a concern for the Eagles. They were remarkably healthy in 2013, with the same five players starting every game. The Eagles did not have their original line play together for a single snap last year.
Tobin is entering his third season with the team. The former undrafted free agent is someone the coaches have been high on for two years, although he was inconsistent in seven starts last season. Gardner is a journeyman who is a decent backup, but not a starter. Those are the players competing with Barbre to start at right guard, and likely the top two tackle/guard backups.
Dennis Kelly has survived three seasons with the Eagles. He's a guard in the team's system (even though he's listed at tackle), but will again be on the bubble. He showed more promise last season with a healthier back.
Molk and Vandervelde are the top options as backup centers. Molk is on the smaller side and is a true center. Vandervelde has more position versatility, but he was returning from an injury last season.
Graf and Andrews were both on the practice squad. Graf, a USC product, has tackle/guard versatility. Andrews, from Oregon State, has center/guard versatility. Both players will compete in camp again for backup spots.
Projected lineup: Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Allen Barbre, Lane Johnson, Matthew Tobin, Andrew Gardner, Julian Vandervelde, Dennis Kelly
It's hard to put any of the undrafted linemen in this group until training camp and the preseason, when there's a better chance for evaluation. But all of them have a chance – it's not as if the Eagles' reserves are locked into spots. I went with Vandervelde over Molk because of the position versatility, which is valuable on game day. Tobin and Gardner both have guard/tackle versatility and will be top reserves. Kelly makes the team for the fourth season because he's insurance at guard if Barbre struggles. I wouldn't rule out an addition to the offensive line at some point before the season.