Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was surprisingly blunt when he talked about how disappointed the Eagles were that they didn't come out of the draft with an offensive lineman or two. The team had targeted some players, but they were picked earlier than anticipated.
The Eagles love their starting offensive line, but three of them are 30 or more years old. There was a need to add some young blood to the mix. The fact the Eagles didn't focus on the players already on the roster tells you they weren't very confident in those guys.
The backup offensive line was a major question heading into the summer. But then something funny happened. Maybe the players were better than the Eagles thought. Or maybe line coach Jeff Stoutland simply worked his magic. Whatever the reason, the backup line was outstanding in the preseason. They were dominant at times. I was blown away when the backup offensive moved the ball on the Steeelers starting defense. The line has to get a lot of credit for that success. They gave Mark Sanchez time to throw. They gave the backs room to run.
Let's take a look at some of the players who have stepped up for the Eagles.
Andrew Gardner was the backup left tackle this summer. He had been in the NFL since 2009, but had never started a game. Gardner seemed like a camp body when the Eagles signed him, but turned out to be much more than that. He played well enough to earn a roster spot. Gardner was active in the season opener and ended up getting on the field. At first he took over for Evan Mathis at left guard. Then Allen Barbre got hurt and Gardner shifted to right tackle. He started at right tackle on Monday night and played okay.
Gardner is 28 years old. He could prove to be an effective backup for a few years, but he isn't meant to be a starter. He is a limited athlete who wins more with effort and toughness than skill. Going against Ryan Kerrigan on Sunday will be a huge test for him.
Dennis Kelly looked like he might be the right tackle of the future back in 2012. Then Chip Kelly got hired and Dennis was moved to guard. He played some guard in 2012, but it isn't his natural position. Kelly's career was further slowed when he got hurt. This year Kelly was healthy and spent the summer playing right guard. He showed promise and ended up winning a roster spot. On Monday night, Kelly started at left guard, a new position for him. Kelly started slow, but played better as the game went along. Chip Kelly praised Dennis this week and Dennis is going to remain the starting left guard this Sunday vs the Skins.
Kelly is only 24 years old. He could prove to be part of the future, as a role player or starter. He has the kind of size the coaches want. Kelly is athletic enough to play in this system. We need to see more of him in action before knowing how good a player he is. Kelly also has the potential to play some tackle if needed.
David Molk was signed by the Eagles back in January. He was supposed to come in and push Julian Vandervelde for the backup center spot. I was a big fan of Molk's coming out of Michigan and thought he would be a good fit for the Eagles. Vandervelde had never looked all that good at center. Molk was a backup for the Chargers in 2012, but wasn't on a roster last year. Vandervelde got hurt this summer and Molk got to be the primary backup center.
Molk got on the field in the season opener, playing left guard after Mathis went out and Gardner shifted to tackle. Molk was up and down. He is a better fit for center due to his size and skill set. Molk is a good athlete and has the ability to get out wide or downfield on screens and other perimeter plays. Molk won't turn 26 until December so he could be a long term answer as the backup center.
The mystery man in all of this is Matt Tobin. He was a backup tackle in 2013, but spent this spring and summer focusing on being the backup left guard. Tobin is only in his second year and the Eagles do like him. Tobin had a terrific summer. He is athletic enough to be an effective pass blocker. He is a very good run blocker, especially when getting to the second level and going after linebackers and defensive backs.
The recent injuries would have been an ideal chance for Tobin to get on the field and show what he could do against starters, but Tobin sprained his ankle in the preseason finale and missed the first couple of games. He is back at practice this week. Depending on how Kelly and Gardner perform, Tobin could get a chance to get on the field.
At the least, I think Tobin can be a good backup. I'm not sure he's athletic enough for tackle, but he might be able to develop into a starting guard. Tobin has good size. He is a tough, physical run blocker.
I doubt that you'll glance at the depth chart in 2016 and see Tobin as the left guard and Kelly as the right guard, but the Eagles will be happy if just one of those guys can become a starter. This season's injuries have been difficult to deal with, but if the young players can take advantage of the playing time, there will be an upside to the situation. The Eagles didn't find line depth in the draft, but they may have gotten lucky in finding it under their nose. You don't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.