The Eagles finished the Giants game with three of the five offensive line positions manned by different people than when the evening began, but that apparently won't be the case this weekend against Carolina.
Right tackle Lane Johnson, who tweaked a high ankle sprain, could have come back in last Thursday if the Eagles hadn't held a comfortable lead, Doug Pederson said afterward. That would seem to mean that Isaac Seumalo can go back from right tackle to left guard this week.
On Monday, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said he thinks that left tackle Jason Peters, who was already ailing with a quadriceps injury when he suffered a biceps tear against the Giants, will play against the Panthers.
"That guy is a warrior," Stoutland said. "I don't think he's going to miss any time, personally, but we always have a contingency plan, as you saw the other night."
The contingency plan is Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who gave up the Eagles' only sack, to Olivier Vernon, after Vaitai came in for Peters. Of course, Vaitai also started nine regular-season games and all three playoff games after Peters went down with a knee injury last year against Washington. He had his struggles, but was much better in the playoffs, and the Eagles managed to win the Super Bowl with him.
Stoutland said he feels the Eagles are "very fortunate to have a guy like V," who can play either side. Pederson made the point that Vaitai is better when he knows he is starting, and has the full week to prepare. If Stoutland is being overly optimistic about Peters, will that be the case for Vaitai this week?
"I think it's too early to make that determination," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. Eagles players have Tuesday off and will begin practicing for the Panthers on Wednesday.
In any case, Peters' situation is a significant concern. He is the league's oldest offensive tackle, at 36. He played well in the opener, against Atlanta, but suffered the quad strain the next week at Tampa and has struggled since. On back-to-back first-quarter plays against the Giants, Peters took a holding penalty against Vernon, then couldn't stop Vernon from hitting Wentz and causing a pass to fall incomplete.
One of the reasons Stoutland took the Eagles offensive line coaching job in 2013 was that he wanted to coach Peters, who is now a nine-time Pro Bowl player and is widely considered a future Hall of Famer. Stoutland, not surprisingly, stood up for Peters' play when the subject came up Monday.
"It seems like he's always playing against the best player on the field. Olivier Vernon is a premium pass rusher," Stoutland said.
Stoutland said Peters' issues have had more to do with timing than with declining skills.
"He's such a perfectionist … I don't think he's far off. There were a couple times where if he could have just got his foot in the ground a second sooner, he's solidifying all those blocks," Stoutland said. "He solidified most of them.
"I think he's still extremely productive and playing at a high level."
Stoutland said timing was the overall problem with the offensive line, which hasn't lived up to the best-in-the-NFL billing it carried home from the Super Bowl.
"We've got a long way to go [in the season]. You could have said the same thing to me last year at this time," Stoutland said. "I think we're getting better each week."
Center Jason Kelce has mentioned that the line has struggled against games – sorting out twists and loops, where a player ends up not blocking the guy he thought he would be blocking.
"We've gotta do a better job with our hands, of keeping our body weight down the middle," and not lunging off-balance, Stoutland said.
He said that is the sort of thing that gets sorted out as the season goes along, and a line sees more of it.
"Unless you do it full speed – unless you have that thing full speed in front of your face, which is really hard to simulate in practice – there's nothing like the game," Stoutland said.
So far, the only non-injury-related change that's been made on the O-line is the switch from Stefen Wisniewski to Seumalo at left guard, after the Tennessee game. Wisniewski said he thought he played well, and hinted that there were non-football reasons for the move. (Perhaps, that the front office drafted Seumalo in the third round in 2016 with the idea that he would start.)
Stoutland denied feeling pressure to promote Seumalo.
"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. That's my job," Stoutland said. "And I tell every player that, coming in."
Stoutland said he felt he the change was needed "just watching the practice sessions every day. I can't sit there and ignore something.
"There's nobody here that's my cousin, brother-in-law – if you're the most productive player, you'll find a spot on the field."
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