JASON KELCE got the phone call from offensive line coach Howard Mudd Friday night.
"I was surprised when he told me. He was like, 'This is your time to show us what you've got. Just make sure you go out there and do what you what you're supposed to do,' " Kelce, the Eagles' rookie center from Cincinnati, said yesterday.
Mudd had called to tell Kelce he would be getting all the first-team reps this week, leading up to Thursday's home preseason game against the visiting Browns. Traditionally, the third preseason game is the closest thing to a dress rehearsal for the regular-season opener.
This is quite the opportunity for an undersized sixth-round pick, still living in an airport hotel and currently sharing a NovaCare locker with fellow rookie Greg Lloyd. An Eagles spokesman moved in to cut off an extended media scrum around Kelce yesterday because Lloyd, sidelined with a high ankle sprain, needed to get to his stuff.
Kelce is wary of making assumptions.
"I don't think I'm any closer this week than I've been since the first preseason game," Kelce said. "I think it's just, they want to see what they've got. They haven't told me anything other than that."
Jamaal Jackson declined to speak with reporters yesterday. Kelce said the 31-year-old veteran has been helpful.
"Jamaal's a great guy. Jamaal really makes you comfortable," Kelce said. "He wants to be out there, obviously, but he understands they're trying to make the team the best, and he's been hurt the last couple of years, something happens to him again, somebody's got to step in . . . He helps me out whenever I have questions."
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was asked about the possibility of starting two rookies on the offensive line, given that first-round pick Danny Watkins is the first-team right guard.
"We've certainly discussed that," Mornhinweg said. "If they're the right type of players, then there's absolutely no problem at all. [But the Eagles are] on the road in domes the first two games, all those things . . . That's why we're where we are right now. We're getting great evaluations. Jason Kelce has a great opportunity here. Jamaal is playing at a high level."
Winston Justice said he wasn't aware that the return of Reggie Wells had to do with the Eagles wanting Wells to compete for the right tackle spot, until a reporter asked him about that yesterday.
"Didn't know that," Justice said. A reporter observed that there are more than a few competitors there. "Yeah," Justice said.
The unexpected signing Saturday of Wells, a deep sub guard for last year's team, adds another layer of uncertainty to the right tackle situation, where Justice is the returning starter. Justice confirmed yesterday that he still experiences pain in his repaired knee, which Andy Reid said means Justice can't plant that leg as well as he can his other leg.
King Dunlap lined up with the starting o-line yesterday. Ryan Harris, who seemed fast-tracked to the starting job right after he signed earlier this month, sat out yesterday with the back problem that has pretty much taken him off the board, even though Harris was able to practice Saturday for the first time since playing in the preseason opener.
"I don't know, and that's basically where I'm at right now," Justice said, when asked if he will be able to start the season Sept. 11, when the Eagles visit the Rams. "I feel that I'm getting better every day, taking it day-by-day."
Does Justice start when he is healthy?
"I don't know," Justice said.
Marty Mornhinweg said he felt Dunlap generally played well Thursday against the Steelers. Mornhinweg agreed with a questioner that left guard Todd Herremans is capable of playing right tackle, but there is no sign of that happening.
"We'll see with Winston," Mornhinweg said. "When he's ready, we'll see. He's not quite ready yet."
Mornhinweg wouldn't say whether he would consider starting Justice in the opener, if Justice got healthy by then but hadn't played in the preseason.