Eagles’ Isaac Seumalo, the once-promising offensive lineman, is settling in as a starter
The team's most versatile offensive lineman has added strength, and getting acclimated into the lineup.
Teammates and coaches say Isaac Seumalo is ready to be what the Eagles envisioned when they drafted him — a solid starter, a guard with extraordinary athleticism and intelligence, who can swing outside to tackle or inside to center in a pinch.
Just a few months ago, Seumalo's future here seemed very much in doubt. He'd failed last year as a starting guard. As the backup center in this year's training camp and preseason, he kept snapping the ball over the quarterback's head on running plays.
This was a disappointment. To say that Seumalo was drafted 79th overall, in 2016's third round, doesn't provide the full picture. Howie Roseman, newly restored to power, traded draft picks and players to move up twice in the first round and take Carson Wentz. After he nabbed Wentz, Roseman's next pick, his only other pick among the first 150 selections, was the one he used on Seumalo.
After Seumalo proved impressively versatile as a fill-in at both guard spots and as an emergency right tackle in 2016, he was named the 2017 left guard as training camp began. He wasn't asked to compete for the job, he was handed it, ahead of veteran Allen Barbre, who was quickly traded, and also ahead of Stefen Wisniewski and Chance Warmack.
That situation lasted two regular-season games. Seumalo looked a bit shaky in the opener, a victory at Washington. The next week, he figured in four of the six sacks Carson Wentz took in a 27-20 loss at Kansas City, and by the middle of Week 3, Seumalo was out. Wisniewski eventually emerged as the left guard, and would keep the spot all the way through Super Bowl LII. Seumalo played on field goals and extra points, getting offensive snaps here and there.
"I think it was one of the best things that could have happened," Seumalo said this week. "Sometimes, [in order to] kinda really get better, you have to lose a lot. … [getting benched] kind of changed my mentality, how I played, and it kind of set me on the path where I am today — having a lot more fun, playing a lot looser, letting the game come to me. Really just taking it one play at a time. I know it's cheesy and corny, but …. You've got to be in the moment.
"Game day is not a time to think. You've just got to go out and play."
In the offseason, Seumalo added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-4, 300-pound frame. The wayward training camp snaps were a glitch that he eventually worked out. And when the O-line – though not necessarily Wisniewski – looked much shakier than expected through the first four games, again a change was made at left guard.
Wisniewski was not happy with being scapegoated. He indicated he thought the switch had to do with factors other than performance. His implication was that management wanted the draft pick to play ahead of the journeyman vet, something both Eagles coach Doug Pederson and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland have denied.
"I'm not gonna comment on what other teammates and stuff said," said Seumalo, who said of Wisniewski: "Great teammate. Mentor, he's helped me out a bunch. Good friend."
Stoutland said it was clear from practice that Seumalo deserved a starting role. He said he would never promote someone because of where they were drafted.
"I have an obligation here to Mr. [Jeffrey] Lurie and to the organization to make sure we have the best five players on the field," Stoutland said. "That's my job. And I tell every player that coming in."
Seumalo didn't complain about last season's benching, but he badly wanted to earn a regular role again.
"That's why everybody's in this locker room, is to start. Go and ball out and have a blast and win games, for sure," Seumalo said.
Teammates said they weren't sure that Seumalo was really that bad last year, though he did need to add strength.
"Even though he had the game he had vs. Kansas City, I would have loved to have seen him have the opportunity to battle through it," right guard Brandon Brooks said. "That wasn't the case. That's in the past, it is what it is."
It's great to have the athleticism to play all over the line, but the fact is, NFL guards these days need bulk. Some of the top pass-rushers are interior linemen. They aren't 265-pounders, like the pass rush ends. They are built more along the lines of Ndamukong Suh (6-4, 313) or Fletcher Cox (6-4, 310). Brooks, 6-5, is listed at 335, says he goes more like 350, and is not at all overweight. Seumalo was about 50 pounds lighter than Brooks at the start of the 2017 season.
"He's developed physically so much more," center Jason Kelce said.
"I feel definitely stronger, bigger, but still athletic," Seumalo said.
How did he add the strength? It isn't like he'd never lifted. His father, Joe Seumalo, is defensive line coach at San Jose State. His brother Andrew is defensive line coach at Lafayette. His sister, Jessi, is Utah's football operations recruiting coordinator. We're not talking about Jordan Mailata here, who just took up football.
"Ate a lot," Seumalo said. "There's no secret … A lot of calories every day. Tried to eat as healthy as I could. Eat in the morning. Eat after workout. Then eat again. Then try to eat something before I went to bed. Kind of bigger meals – it depends on how much you're working out."
And yet, he stayed hungry.
"You've heard the slogan, 'Hungry dogs run faster,' " Brooks said. "I don't know if there's a hungrier guy out there than Isaac. It's a testament to him, putting in the hard work, battling through some adversity."
It isn't the sort of thing that makes announcers break out the exclamation points, but an O-lineman who can play anywhere is a rarity. Tackles often are long and lean, unsuited to the leverage-based inside game. Guards and centers often are too short and slow to play tackle. Lots of guards can't analyze defensive fronts well enough to play center.
"It's super-rare," Brooks said. "I don't know if I've ever been around a guy that can play every position on the offensive line and tight end, and can do it on the fly, in a game … Different positions and different sides."
Seumalo said he finds having to switch positions unexpectedly suits him, keeps him from obsessing over details, getting too lost in his own head. When you're thrown into a situation, you just react.
"The moving around kind of makes you think less … The more you think in football, the slower you play, and the slower you play, the more you get beat," he said.
"I've been working my butt off and letting the chips lay where they may. Super-thankful for the opportunity, and I'm going to go out there and ball out."
Five major-league baseball players have played all nine positions in a game. Isaac Seumalo is the offensive line version of that. In his three-year, 29-game career, Seumalo has taken snaps for the Eagles at four of the five o-line spots, and has started at three of them.
"I don't know that I've ever seen a guy, at least in Philadelphia, who's able to do all of those [positions] and pretty much do them well," said center Jason Kelce, an Eagle since 20111.
Seumalo appearances by position, this season:
*In the opener against Atlanta, he was the backup left guard, played center for one snap when Jason Kelce had to leave with a minor injury, and also appeared on four plays as an extra blocking tight end.
*At Tampa, Seumalo again was the backup left guard and again played four snaps as an extra tight end.
*Against the Colts, Seumalo played just two offensive snaps, one at guard and one as an extra tight end.
*At Tennessee, the same pattern: One snap at guard, one at tight end.
*Against the Vikings, Seumalo started at left guard ahead of Stefen Wisniewski for the first time this season, and played all 59 snaps, in one spot.
*At the Giants, Seumalo started at left guard again, playing 58 snaps there, then the final 13 at right tackle, after Lane Johnson left the game with an ankle injury.