THE EAGLES' offensive line seems to have come together at long last these past few weeks, not in the least because of the strong running emphasis afforded by the success of rookie Bryce Brown, whose 347 yards are the second-most in franchise history in back-to-back games. Handing the ball to Brown has been most helpful for the development of rookie quarterback Nick Foles, and has helped Foles' thrown-together o-line develop some rhythm and continuity.
Except, this week the Eagles visit Tampa Bay, which ranks first in the NFL in run defense, last in pass defense. Furthermore, the Bucs do a lot of complex stuff that will test the cohesiveness of the Birds' young blockers, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said.
This was not news to right guard Jake Scott, the 31-year-old vet who stepped in off the street 3 weeks ago and helped solidify the group.
"They fly around, they play hard," Scott said of the 6-6 Bucs. "Lot of stunts, a lot of line games up front . . . It's different from what we've had the last 3 weeks. It's going to require more communication.
"A lot of it [lately] has been one-on-one blocking, or just some two-man combination blocks, but this week it's going to be some three-, four-man combinations. You have to pass all that stuff off. It takes communication. You're going to have to be aware of what's going on around you."
Is this doable, for an injury-plagued o-line that has been derided as possibly the worst in the NFL during a few of its adventures this season?
"I think we'll be all right. We've worked on it a lot this week," Scott said. "We've watched a lot of film . . . I think we'll be ready to take care of it Sunday."
Rookie right tackle Dennis Kelly said he has gotten used to talking things through with Scott.
"We're talking about it, even through the walk-throughs and practice - after every play, if something doesn't feel right, if something feels awkward, we'll discuss what we think was supposed to happen, what we could do," Kelly said. "Even during the game . . . not a drastic change, but put another hand on [the defender], or stay a little bit longer, just something to try and continuously improve, and I think we have a very good rhythm with each other to kind of understand how we both play.
"I think we have some confidence [in the line] now. Rhythm and continuity in the offensive line is huge."
Scott praised Kelly, a fifth-round pick from Purdue who came to college as a 6-8, 240-pound tight end.
"Dennis is coming along great," Scott said. "He's a very good young player. Really good . . . I like his attitude; he can put [mistakes] behind him and ignore it . . . Conceptually, I think he understands what he's doing. He's a smart kid."
Asked about combination blocking with a group that has only been together a few weeks, center Dallas Reynolds said: "I think we've done a good job of trying to do that quickly, getting used to each other and playing well together."
Mornhinweg lauded Reynolds for playing last Sunday despite an ankle sprain that kept him out of practice until Friday. Mornhinweg said he'd gone through the week thinking left guard Evan Mathis was going to be his center. (So did we; that's why we kept writing about it.)
"It was a struggle," Reynolds said. "In the beginning of the week, I had my doubts, but as the week went on, I felt, personally, I had the end goal of playing."
Asked if he had decent mobility against the Cowboys, Reynolds said: "I had enough to do my job."
Damaris Johnson wasn't surprised to learn he'd broken the Eagles' record with that 98-yard punt return for a touchdown in the final minute Sunday at Dallas.
"I was exhausted," Johnson recalled Thursday. "I saw that punter; he was running fast. I thought I was just running slow."
In fact, even though punter Brian Moorman is 36 now, he did win three successive NCAA Division II 400-meter hurdles championships at Pittsburg (Kan.) State. So Johnson was probably going faster than he thought down the right sideline, after splitting two pairs of tacklers. But Eagles linebacker Casey Matthews had to delay Moorman's pursuit enough to give Johnson enough cushion to get to the end zone.
"I wasn't thinking I would get caught. I was thinking 'I hope I hurry up and get there,' because I was exhausted," Johnson said.
Special teams coordinator Bobby April said that with the Birds down 38-27, 53 seconds remaining, the idea was to block Moorman's punt, not to set up a return. But the pressure forced a long, low kick, April said, and Johnson picked his way upfield.
No update Thursday on concussion victims Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy; that probably means Vick did not pass the imPACT test he took Wednesday. Head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder is expected to address the matter Friday . . . Defensive tackle Mike Patterson sat out practice due to illness, the Eagles said . . . DT Fletcher Cox (tailbone bruise) was a full practice participant.