WHEN JASON Kelce was auditioning for teams at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, he was regarded as a mobile, mentally strong center who did not have the size or power to become a starter in the NFL someday.
A little more than 2 years later, Kelce, who was taken by the Eagles in the sixth round in 2011, is proving his doubters wrong.
Kelce, a 6-3, 295-pound center from Cincinnati, has not only become one of Philadelphia's best offensive linemen blocking for Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy, he also has become the vocal leader of the group up front.
"I think I get pushed into that leadership spotlight because I'm more vocal and because I'm literally the center, but we have great guys on the offensive line," Kelce said. "Really, any of those guys on the offensive line could be considered leaders, especially Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis or Jason Peters."
"We are working together day in and day out, and that's one of the best things about our group, because we are all working together to get better, and there's not really one guy that's really the dude in the room, and I don't think we want that."
During Sunday's game against the Bears, Kelce showed his talents on the national stage in a 54-11 win over Chicago. With his ability to create wide-open holes for running backs to penetrate or enough time for Nick Foles to find his open receiver, Kelce is quickly becoming one of the league's top centers, a little more than a month after celebrating his 26th birthday.
"I don't pay attention to that. I just keep playing football," Kelce said of the added national attention. "It's great that you start to get recognition and stuff like that, but, at the end of the day, I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing, keep preparing the same way I've been preparing and trying to keep playing good football. That's all we're trying to do as a team."
After his selection as the 191st overall pick in the 2011, Kelce was prepared to prove wrong those who passed over him, simply stating his size as the reason for his draft selection.
"If we went over all of the times the analysts we wrong, we could talk about it for years probably," Kelce said with a laugh. "It's one of the hard things to predict how guys are going to translate, and stuff like that. For me, I've always had the athletic ability, it's just sizewise where they thought I wouldn't mesh well in the NFL and I probably wouldn't be the most sought-after guy in other schemes, but fortunately in Philly, I fit that scheme very well when I came in and my skills fit it well now."
Tackle Jason Peters said: "That's why they brought him in, and that's why he got drafted here. They knew what he could do out of college, so I'm not surprised at all with his progression."
Coach Chip Kelly thinks that, as one of the leaders in his third season, Kelce's success in his system has helped take a lot of pressure off Foles.
"He's been huge," Kelly said during his Monday news conference at the NovaCare Complex. "I think everything that we get started on the offensive side of the ball starts with him. He sets the blocking schemes for us. Very, very smart, and a real student of the game, and spends a lot of time on the intricacies with him and [offensive-line] coach [Jeff] Stoutland kind of going over how do we want to block this, how do we want to do that."
"He's really almost the coach on the field for that group, and he takes a little pressure off the quarterback. In some systems, the quarterback is making all those calls, and in our system, our center does it, and it's because Jason can handle it, and I think he's been really invaluable to us."
After becoming the first Eagles rookie offensive lineman to start every game since Doug Brzezinski in 1999, Kelce hoped to add onto a solid rookie campaign in his second season, but in the second game of the year against Baltimore, Kelce went down after suffering a partially torn ACL and a torn MCL in his right knee, ending his season.
"I knew I had a long time to recover, with the next season so far away after the injury," Kelce said. "There was plenty of rehab time and talking to trainers and other guys who had the injury, they had seen guys come back strong so I wasn't really too worried about it to be honest with you. I was confident that I was going to come back, and the trainers were outstanding the whole way."
Kelce has returned looking better than ever, despite wearing a knee brace. The athletic center has been a key contributor by opening lanes and blocking during LeSean McCoy's career year, as well as the improbable season we have so far seen from Foles.
"He's grown a lot," Peters said of Kelce. "He has come a long way since he first got here, and it's good to see him back on the field and doing his thing."
After signing a 4-year rookie contract in 2011 worth $2.14 million, Kelce has a year remaining after this season. Hoping to stay in Philadelphia for many years to come, Kelce said it depends on whether the team wants him back and how business plays out.
"I do want a long-term commitment," Kelce said. "I would love to play here in Philadelphia. I would love to play here for as long as I can, but, obviously, there are a lot of other things that come with it. Fortunately, that's where the business side of this comes in. How much money are they going to pay? How much money am I going to take? Whether they're going to offer me a deal at all? That's one of the reasons that midseason you don't really talk about it too much because it's too hard to understand.
"I would like to be here as long as possible if the Eagles are willing to have me here as long as possible."