The walls are crumbling around him, in a literal sense. Jason Kelce looks to the left of him and the faces are changing. To the right of him, the right tackle position is fluid. Injuries have stretched the depth of the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive line already in this 2014 season, making Kelce more indispensable than he's ever been in his football life.
Beating Jacksonville 34-17 in the opening game on Sunday wasn't easy by any stretch of the imagination. It was an agonizing first half, everyone agrees. The Eagles played most of the game with Andrew Gardner - the third tackle on the full-team, everyone-is-here depth chart - on the right side. They played two-plus quarters with David Molk at left guard, a true emergency move given that Molk had never taken a snap there in his NFL days.
And it worked! Somehow, it worked well enough for the Eagles to erase a 17-0 deficit and score 24 points in a row before the defense added its cherry with a strip-sack and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
In the middle of it all, literally, was Kelce, the Bearded Wonder, making sure that every player on the line of scrimmage had the right message for every snap of the football. His ability to communicate to the rest of the offensive line and keep everyone on the same page was instrumental Sunday, and it is absolutely vital for the Eagles moving forward until they have some sense of cohesion along the offensive line.
That's likely to not happen for some time, even if the Eagles avoid any more injuries the rest of the season (knocking on wood). Lane Johnson, the starting right tackle, has three games remaining on his suspension. How quickly he returns to the starting lineup after that is dependent upon his conditioning and mindset when he returns. Left guard Evan Mathis was played on Injured Reserve/Designated To Return list and will miss at least the next seven games (plus a bye week) and if everything goes right he would be back for the November 10 game against Carolina. Sixth man Matt Tobin, a second-year player everyone has raved about based on his play in the preseason, is still a medical question mark with a high ankle sprain.
Now, this isn't a time to panic. It's really a chance to evaluate the Eagles in an emergency situation, and in the end to evaluate how the Eagles under Chip Kelly react with offensive line woes. The Great Offensive Line Injury Decimation of 2012 ruined that team, you remember. When left tackle Jason Peters tore his Achilles tendon in the offseason, and then Kelce went down in Week 2 with a torn ACL and then Todd Herremans suffered a season-ending foot injury in early November, the Eagles were a mess on offense. Line coach Howard Mudd couldn't make work what he had, and the offense suffered.
This team is moving forward with Molk and Gardner and newly signed veteran Wade Smith and just-promoted-from-the-practice squad rookie Kevin Graf and, in time, Johnson. Kelly isn't backing down from this challenge, not one bit, in part because he has the services of Kelce to pull it all together.
The focus on Monday night for Jon Gruden and Al Michaels and all of the millions watching, is going to be the star players on this offense. We know the truth, though, having lived through it before: If the offensive line is broke, the offense isn't going to work.
The Most Valuable Player on Monday night, then, is Kelce and how he keeps his offensive line mates working with precision in the chaos of a prime-time spotlight.