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Eagles' right guard competition could take a while to sort out

Sooner is always better than later when it comes to finalizing a training camp competition - especially on the offensive line.

Eagles offensive lineman Andrew Garner greets a young fan. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)
Eagles offensive lineman Andrew Garner greets a young fan. (Michael Bryant/Staff Photographer)Read more

Sooner is always better than later when it comes to finalizing a training camp competition - especially on the offensive line.

But the Eagles don't have that luxury at right guard, where four combatants have logged practice time through the first week of training camp. The team could say that means it has an abundance of talent from which to choose. Or to the contrary, it could mean the Eagles don't have a legitimate starter.

If Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner or Julian Vandervelde had ever won a starting spot before, or if John Moffitt hadn't been away from the game for nearly two years, there wouldn't be as much concern about a competition that could last late into the preseason.

An optimist may point out that the Eagles still have six days until the start of the preseason and a little over a month until the start of the regular season.

"The great part of our preseason is it is so long that it will give itself a chance to express itself over that time," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "You're not making a hasty decision."

Of course, a pessimist may look at that same time line and point out that there are only six days until the first preseason game and only a little over a month until the regular season begins. Right tackle Lane Johnson may have the most to gain in deciding upon a right guard sooner rather than later.

"I need them right now," Johnson said recently. "Even preseason games, I need to be able to get that bond with them, be on the same level, because it takes two to tango."

Center Jason Kelce has almost as much reason as Johnson for the Eagles to settle on the guard who will play to his right. But he agreed with Kelly that there isn't a rush and that it's more important to make sure you have the right guy than to get a jump on continuity.

"Doesn't matter what continuity if you have the wrong guy," Kelly said. "That's the bottom line. Everybody feels the same way."

The Eagles probably would have been locked in from Day 1 had they kept Evan Mathis and inserted Allen Barbre at right guard instead of at Mathis' old left guard spot. Kelly released the Pro Bowler in June after a contract dispute.

Mathis has yet to sign with another team and is unlikely to get the $5.5 million he would have made with the Eagles. The divorce could end up being a loss for both sides.

The guard position, as Kelce pointed out, isn't near as important as tackle. And the same, to a lesser degree, could be said of center. But chemistry on the offensive line is paramount.

Johnson and Kelce have limited experience playing alongside Tobin (two games) and Gardner (six) last season. The 6-foot-6, 308-pound Gardner took over for Tobin in Week 12 and finished the season at right guard.

"I got a concussion and I didn't practice throughout the week," Tobin said. "He had more practice that week so he stayed in there, played well and the rest is history."

Tobin opened camp at right guard and would seem to have the edge. The Eagles were high on the former undrafted free agent after a strong summer last year, but he suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason and seemingly never returned to form after his recovery.

Asked for his strengths, Tobin (6-6, 290) said his explosiveness and ability to block in space. Aside from Vandervelde (6-2, 300), third-year Tobin may be the most athletic of the bunch. The Eagles trained Vandervelde at center the last three years, but he's a natural guard.

"I'm able to get a little more run off at guard," Vandervelde said. "So my natural quickness is good from that perspective, and having the natural leverage that I have, which is a nice way of calling myself short."

Vandervelde's best shot of making the 53-man roster, however, is likely as a backup swing lineman. Dennis Kelly has NFL guard experience but hasn't been given an opportunity with the first team. Kevin Graf and undrafted rookie Malcolm Bunche are long shots.

Moffitt is the dark horse. The Eagles signed the 28-year-old in June after Mathis was cut. Moffitt had 15 career starts with the Seahawks but walked away from the Broncos, seemingly burned out, in 2013. He said he hit rock bottom the next spring and came to the realization that he had a substance abuse problem.

Moffitt (6-4, 319) worked his way back to the NFL and walked into an open competition.

"I'm just competing. I've been in a few of these before where you're battling," Moffitt said. "I think the best thing to worry about is yourself and how you can get better, and then at the end of the day things will end up the way they're supposed to."

The end could be a ways off.