EARLIER THIS offseason, it seemed Jason Kelce might be traded, and the Eagles might make 2016 rookie guard Isaac Seumalo their starting center. That didn't happen, but the team moved to fortify its interior line with veteran players, even though the roster was thinner at offensive tackle.
Kelce began full-team OTAs Tuesday as the starter. There is no obvious sign that his status might change; Seumalo is currently the starting left guard. Stefen Wisniewski, the veteran center signed last year who ended up starting six games at guard, is back on a new three-year contract but isn't taking starter's reps at either spot. Wisniewski said Tuesday it isn't clear how he fits into the 2017 mix, he might be a backup again, and however it works out is OK with him.
Kelce said he didn't let himself think about where he might end up when trade rumors were heavy.
"You drive yourself crazy if you try to read too much into what's going on," Kelce said. "My whole offseason has kind of just been - really the only thing I can control is my game and the way I play and what I do, really. So I've just really tried to hit the weight room, work on technique, work to get my game back to what it used to be.
"I just feel like at times last year . . . I was dominant, at times there were games where I didn't do a great job. You go back and watch film, you try to make the correction, you try to make sure that moving forward, I'm the same player I've been in the past."
Wisniewski, 28, said he is "going to play the best I can play, keep getting better, and kind of see what happens. That's all I can do . . . If (starting) isn't my role here, I'll do whatever I can to help the team win . . . I like this team a lot, I like this organization a lot, I like this city a lot. I'm excited to be here."
The Eagles added former Titans first-round pick Chance Warmack, who played for offensive-line coach Jeff Stoutland at Alabama, to the guard group, along with former Dolphins starter Dallas Thomas. That would seem to make it easier for the coaching staff to move Seumalo or Wisniewski to center, if needed. The Eagles also added undrafted rookie center Tyler Orlosky, from West Virginia, but he suffered an MCL injury in rookie camp and probably won't take the field again until training camp.
"I don't think that concerning myself with that is going to do me any good," said Kelce, 29, the starter ever since he arrived as an undersized sixth-round rookie from Cincinnati in 2011.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson is said to have told Kelce, when the trade scenarios didn't materialize around the time of the NFL Scouting Combine, that the matter was closed and that Kelce will be the starter this year.
Asked about that Tuesday, Kelce said: "I don't really want to discuss private conversations or anything like that with the media."
Pederson, asked Tuesday about the center situation, said, "Right now going forward, Jason is the guy, and then we'll continue to work 'Wiz' along with Isaac, try to get Isaac some snaps, too." Pederson said part of OTAs is "evaluating our guys, but Kelce will definitely get the majority of the reps."
Like most of us who face situations beyond our control, Kelce said he has concluded that "worrying about it doesn't do any good." But most of us worry anyway.
"We have competition every year," Kelce said. "The reality is, we always have guys coming in, coming out. Now we happen to have a lot of really good depth at interior line. Like I said, it doesn't do me any good worrying about the 'what-ifs.' "
True, the Eagles always have other guys who can play any position. But when Kelce was making the Pro Bowl and getting a seven-year contract extension after the 2013 season, the backups were guys such as Julian Vandervelde and Josh Andrews, who never shaped up as serious contenders. Having Seumalo and Wisniewski in the wings is different.
Kelce, 6-3, 295, has always been better working in space than trying to match power with defensive linemen who outweigh him by 25 or 30 pounds, especially 3-4 nose guards. He said that he thought technique was as much to blame as strength last season, and that he felt he improved over the second half of 2016.
"Getting more and more familiar with everybody around me, the offense and everything like that, certainly helped out," he said. "I still think there's things I can improve upon. I've certainly done a lot this offseason," adding a few pounds, and, "I've done a lot of things from a technique standpoint, that (Stoutland) has critiqued me on."
Kelce said he would like to weigh 300 by training camp, "but it doesn't matter how much weight you've got if you aren't using the right technique. I think early on, there were a lot of things from a technique standpoint I could have done a better job on."
Last season, when Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich talked about Kelce, especially when he struggled, they emphasized his communication with then-rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, how important it was to have a veteran helping the QB with blocking calls, building trust. Asked Tuesday whether he thinks that relationship helps him maintain the upper hand, Kelce said that isn't anything he thinks about.
Kelce has started 78 games here, which is both an argument for keeping him in place as the fulcrum of a changing line, and also a reminder that he is closer to the end than the beginning. Another team leader, 30-year-old defensive end Connor Barwin, one of Kelce's best friends, ended up being released this offseason and going to the Rams, even though he had offered to take a pay cut to stay.
"That's just the way it goes. You don't really let that stuff weigh into it," Kelce said. "Having said that, I hope he has 15 sacks over in LA."