The Eagles offensive line was a huge mess in 2012. Most of that was due to injury. No one expected Dallas Reynolds, Jake Scott and Dennis Kelly to play side-by-side for several games. Heck, most fans and media had never even heard of Scott, a longtime Colts player.
The nightmare of 2012 was going to be fixed by the healthy return of Jason Peters and Jason Kelce, as well as the addition of fourth overall draft pick Lane Johnson. The Eagles would now have one of the most athletic lines in football, a must for the Chip Kelly offense. Expectations were sky high.
Things have not totally gone according to plan.
Peters looks...mortal. He flat-out struggled in the loss to the Chiefs. Peters has played better since, but still isn't anywhere close to his 2011 form, when he was the best left tackle in the league. Evan Mathis and Kelce have played well. Kelce had some struggles against the Giants, but that was partially due to a bizarre stunt they used on him over and over.
The right side of the line was the weak spot early on. Lane Johnson played like a typical rookie. He would look great on one play and lost on the next. He was more good than bad, but still was sloppier than what the Eagles were hoping for.
Herremans was the Eagles worst lineman for the first month of the season. He struggled to anchor in pass protection. Defenders were able to drive him into the backfield. Herremans also had issues with athletic rushers in pass pro. His run blocking was generally good, but not to the extent that it made up for his struggles as a pass blocker. Fans and the media began to question whether Herremans should lose his job.
Herremans is working with his third offensive line coach. He was trained by Juan Castillo and played left guard for him. Then Howard Mudd took over and Herremans shifted to right tackle. Now Jeff Stoutland is in charge and Herremans has moved to right guard.
Each of the coaches uses different techniques. Most people watch offensive linemen and just assume that there isn't much thinking going on. You just hit the guy across from you and beat the hell out of him for about three seconds. That's not the case at all.
Coaches teach specific techniques to blockers. If line play was simply a matter of size and strength, huge guys would be the best players and guys like Kelce would have no chance. Technique is very important. Herremans underwent a huge change when he shifted from Castillo to Mudd. Now there is another change in dealing with Stoutland. This one isn't as drastic, but did take some getting used to.
Herremans struggles in the KC game really bothered him. He felt his poor play really hurt the whole team so he decided to make some changes. Herremans mixed in some things that previous coaches had him doing. This wasn't an insult to Stoutland.
Herremans had underestimated how much the move to right guard would challenge him. He decided that getting back to some basics that he knew really well would help him get more comfortable and block more effectively. Herremans is practicing better because of this. He's also playing better. Herremans has played well the last couple of weeks. His pass blocking is much better and his run blocking has been very good.
Johnson also made some changes to the way he blocked. He decided to be more aggressive in his pass sets. He is no longer waiting for the rusher to come to him. Johnson is cutting down the space between him and the rusher. That allows him to get his hands on the rusher more quickly and it doesn't let the rusher get going to full speed.
Some people have wondered about Johnson in comparison to the other rookie offensive tackles. It is hard to know how they've played unless you've taken the time to study multiple games for each player. Even then, you can get a false impression. If you watched Johnson against the Chiefs, he might look like a bust. Against the Giants, Johnson looked like a guy who might push for the Pro Bowl. Let the season play out before trying to judge players in any definitive way.
I think Johnson is off to a solid start. He has shown the potential to be a good offensive tackle. He's no Antone Davis or Winston Justice. You do have to keep in mind that Johnson is still fairly new to playing the offensive line. This is his third season as a starting lineman. He had two years at Oklahoma and now his rookie year in the NFL. Johnson has a lot of learning left to do.
The good news is that he's a smart player that is already adjusting his game in the NFL, and that he has the physical ability to be a Pro Bowl lineman. Mix in some experience and the Eagles should have a very good player on their hands.
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