Eagles' Isaac Seumalo getting every chance to start at left guard
Seumalo played several positions as a rookie in 2016 and might be a center someday, but the team hopes he can be a steady starter at left guard in 2017.
It's impossible to compare Isaac Seumalo's progress with the Eagles from this spring's organized team activities to the same time last year, because Seumalo could not even attend last May.
Due to NFL rules, Seumalo needed to wait for Oregon State's academic schedule to end before he joined the Eagles for spring workouts. That kept him in Corvallis, Ore., trying to stay up to speed via Skype video conferencing with offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. As a third-round pick, the missed time set back hopes that Seumalo could secure a starting job as a rookie. A pectoral injury during the preseason didn't help him catch up in the competition.
Seumalo is at OTAs to begin his second NFL season, and he's in position to be a key player for the Eagles in 2017. Coach Doug Pederson put Seumalo as the first-team left guard during OTAs this week. Incumbent Allen Barbre is nursing a calf injury, but that might not make a difference come September. Seumalo is not just a big part of the Eagles' future. The Eagles want him to be a big part of the present, too.
"Yeah, definitely," Seumalo said when asked if he's ready to start. "I'm not saying I'm better [than anybody]. But if you ask anybody that, they'll say yes."
The Eagles have not hidden their enthusiasm about Seumalo, who was their highest-drafted player after Carson Wentz in 2016. At the league meetings in March, Pederson said that the Eagles wanted to "get [Seumalo] in the mix" with the starting offensive line. That was the first indication that he could unseat Barbre this season.
Seumalo started four games at three different positions as a rookie, showing the same versatility that appealed to the Eagles when they scouted him at Oregon State. He even played right tackle at a moment's notice last December, which Pederson said "just shows the athleticism, the desire, the want-to" that Seumalo offers. But it's different being a versatile backup than it is being a consistent starter. And the challenge for Seumalo is now focusing on one position.
"It's easier," Seumalo said. When "you have to do multiple things, it just takes more times. When you focus on one thing, it's less thinking. It's easier in that aspect. But in terms of playing well, it's still a challenge."
Seumalo played every position except left guard at Oregon State. When asked his best position, he answered it's whatever Stoutland assigns him to play. He said he considers himself a left guard this week. Come training camp, the answer might be different.
His best long-term position might prove to be center, although Jason Kelce remains the Eagles' top option in the middle. Pederson said Seumalo will take snaps at center this spring and summer, but the Eagles will give Kelce most of the work. They want Seumalo to get comfortable at left guard.
"It's just doing things over and over and over until it's as easy as putting your clothes on in the morning," Seumalo said.
It helps that the left guard plays between Jason Peters and Kelce, two veteran Pro Bowlers who can help the player between them. That is more of a benefit to Seumalo, who lacks experience, than with Allen Barbre or Stefen Wisniewski. Those are two other top candidates to start at left guard, with Chance Warmack a longshot contender.
Barbre has 36 career starts. Wisniewski totaled 83 career starts. But both of the veterans have position versatility and could slot them as the two top backups on gameday.
There is also long-term value in playing Seumalo this season. He's the type of player who could grow with Wentz in the Eagles' offense. And with uncertainties about the futures of Peters and Kelce beyond 2017, it would help the team's planning if they didn't need to replace the entire left side of the offensive line for Wentz's third year.
But the Eagles do not need to focus on their 2018 lineup this week. They just need to find the best left guard for this season. Seumalo is receiving the chance to win the job.
"To me, it's not different than being on the twos and threes," Seumalo said. "You have a job to do, you try to do it and be really good."