The Eagles made some moves this offseason regarding their offensive line. They re-signed Jason Peters and Jason Kelce to new deals, which essentially locked up the entire starting line for several years. However, outside of Kelce and last year's first round pick Lane Johnson, the line is getting pretty old.
The need for youth and depth along the offensive line has been an understated one in the draft process. While the starting offensive line is intact and lasted all 16 games last season, the Eagles learned in 2012 that every member of that unit is just one hit away.
The quest for a new member of the line isn't simple because the Eagles prefer athletic linemen that move well in space. However, a former teammate of Johnson's may be the answer in Day 3 of the NFL Draft.
Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard has seen his stock rise since his terrific Combine performance in February. Much like Johnson, Kelce and Peters, Ikard is a player who was converted to an offensive lineman. The former tight end recruit and Kelce "clone" has played both left guard and center at the college level and is looking to make an impact any way he can on NFL Sundays.
With the draft on the horizon, Ikard sat down with BGN's Mike Kaye to talk about his college career, his Combine performance and his possible fit with the Eagles.
Mike Kaye: Can you talk about coming out of high school and why you chose Oklahoma?
Gabe Ikard: I was recruited out of high school as a tight end. I chose the University of Oklahoma because Kevin Wilson was the offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. His offense used two and sometimes even three tight ends on the field at one time. Also, I grew up an OU fan. I went to my first OU game when I was five years old and always wanted to play there. Under Bob Stoops, OU had returned to being one of the premier football programs in the country. I seriously considered Notre Dame and Stanford, but once I received my OU offer, I knew were I was headed.
MK: Can you talk about your college career and how that has prepared you for the NFL?
GI: My college career was interesting. I arrived in Norman at 245 pounds expecting to play tight end. I redshirted my freshman year and then made the switch to offensive line in the Spring of 2010. I was not exactly thrilled about the position move, but I trusted my coaches and thought it would be my best opportunity to get on the field quickly. I played in a backup role my first two games as a RS freshman and then earned a starting job. I ended up never looking back and started 50 games on the offensive line after that. The coaches at the University of Oklahoma taught me a lot of things to be successful in the NFL. Of course, they taught me the necessary things for the football field: technique, schemes, film study habits, and communication. In addition, they taught me necessary things to be successful in life: leadership, accountability, diligence, getting out of my comfort zone, and priorities. I will always remember what I did on the field at OU, but the most important things I learned there involve being a good teammate, friend, son, brother, and eventually being a good husband and father.
MK: Starting 50 college games is extremely impressive, especially at the school and conference you were in. Can you talk about how that experience has improved your leadership abilities and understanding of offenses?
GI: Starting that many games surpassed any expectations I had for myself at the University of Oklahoma. My first couple of years starting, I was a little quieter and went about my business not feeling the need to take a leadership role. My last two years starting, there was no doubt that I was the leader of those offensive lines. I had always led by example on the field and in the classroom, but I became a much more vocal leader of the team. As a two-time captain, my teammates looked to me for leadership and guidance. I loved having those responsibilities. My responsibilities increased my senior year when the coaches put me in charge of all the run blocking schemes, pass protections, and snap counts. The thing that made me a better player was Coach Bedenbaugh teaching me defense. When you understand defense, it is easier to understand what you are seeing on the offensive side of the football. That made me a much better player.
MK: What was the process like preparing for the Combine?
GI: Preparing for the Combine was a very interesting process. I played in the Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. As a result, I had very limited time to train for the Combine. I trained in the Tempe/Scottsdale area at the Fischer Institute. Brett Fischer did a great job of taking care of my body and Will Sullivan did a tremendous job at getting me ready in a short amount of time for the Combine events. Living in Arizona by myself was a little different, but I was able to make friends with some of the other guys training there so it was not too bad. I enjoyed my experience there a lot and was very pleased with the numbers I put up at the Combine.
MK: Who was the hardest guy you had block in this draft class and why?
GI: Louis Nix III was the hardest guy I had to block during a game. His combination of size, speed, and power make him extremely difficult to move and control. Also, Aaron Donald was extremely impressive at the Senior Bowl. His ability to use speed and convert it to power is unlike anything I have ever seen from someone his size. Both of those guys are expected to be drafted highly and they both definitely deserve it. They are great players.
MK: Who at the NFL level would you compare your game to?
GI: I like to compare myself to centers that use quickness and good technique in a zone blocking scheme. Two of the best in the league are Jason Kelce and Chris Meyers. I love watching both of those guys use athleticism and power to get movement. They both are a little undersized, but are still two of the best at what they do in the NFL.
MK: You've been pegged as a center but how would you feel about playing guard at the NFL level?
GI: I am very comfortable at playing guard. I started at left guard for 18 games at Oklahoma until I took over as the center. I was able to play some guard at the Senior Bowl and show my versatility. The bottom line is that I will play any position that will get me on the field. Whether that is at center, guard, or even short yardage tight end, I will completely dedicate myself to helping my team in any way I can.
MK: You were teammates with Lane Johnson, has he told you anything about the Eagles offense? If so how do you think you would fit?
GI: Due to his experience at Oklahoma, Lane is used to playing in an uptempo offense. Lane has told me that he really likes the offense and especially likes the coaches and how they do things. I would love to play in Coach Kelly's offense. All of his linemen are very athletic and I fit that mold. Kelce just signed a big deal, but I am willing to play any position to get on the field and make a difference. Also, it would be great to be on a team with one of my best friends.