The Eagles were very lucky last year when it came to injuries. While there were some serious knee injuries in training camp, the majority of the team faced only minor bumps and bruises during the season. The entire offensive line started and played in all 17 games (including playoffs) and was one of the best units in football.
Unfortunately, through three games, the offensive line has become somewhat of a MASH unit. The team lost Pro Bowl left guard Evan Mathis for several weeks and the line's sixth man Allen Barbre for the season in Week 1, with starting right tackle Lane Johnson already serving a four-game suspension. The team was then forced to sign veteran Wade Smith and practice squad tackle Kevin Graf for depth. Mathis and Barbre were put on injured reserve, but the former was given a "designated to return" exception.
On Sunday, the Eagles lost center Jason Kelce for 6-8 weeks with a sports hernia. Backup David Molk was forced to play several snaps for the second time in just three games, after last year's backup center Julian Vandervelde rarely (if ever) played on offense for an entire season. The depth was tested even more when Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters was ejected, which forced the already-questionable line to juggle its positions, as the talented guard/tackle Matt Tobin was inactive for a third straight contest.
While it is easy to worry about the state of the offensive line, there is some room for optimism. The Eagles are 3-0 without a majority of their offensive line starters intact and several are on the cusp of returning to the lineup. Let's take a look at the line as it stands on Monday:
LT) Jason Peters: He was ejected on Sunday but will not face a suspension for his fight with half of the Redskins roster. He has been up-and-down this season but that is likely due to a lot of the changes around him. The Eagles need Peters to stay healthy so that he can protect Nick Foles' blindside.
LG) Matt Tobin: He practiced all week heading into the Redskins game but remained inactive on Sunday. Still, if he can recover after two weeks of practice, he will be a nice replacement for Mathis as the line continues to shape-shift. This move may also allow the Eagles to move Dennis Kelly or Todd Herremans to different spots to get the best linemen out there.
C) David Molk: He played well throughout the preseason and in two games has looked pretty comfortable. His move to the starting lineup leaves a hole at backup center but Molk has shown he can play. It will be interesting to see how he performs on the long-term as he will likely have to start 5-7 games moving forward.
RG) Todd Herremans: While he may move to right tackle in a pinch like he did on Sunday, let's keep him here for now. Herremans has played well this season but needs to continue to improve. He is the longest-tenured offensive player on the team and his experience will be vital with all of the moving pieces around him. He will have to hold down the fort at either spot on the right side of the line.
RT) Andrew Gardner: He seems to have struggled the most of the backups but the Eagles seem to like him at tackle. He could move to the bench for Tobin if the Eagles decide to go with Wade Smith at left guard. Gardner needs to play at a high level, but then again, he has only made two career starts and not allowed a sack.
G) Wade Smith: He got some playing time on Sunday and performed well. He could be moved to a starting spot but for right now it seems like Kelly and/or Gardner are ahead of him on the depth chart and Tobin probably is too. He is a veteran who can play center and be the main interior backup for the Eagles moving forward.
T/G) Dennis Kelly: He has played admirably throughout his two starts and has been better at left guard than Gardner has been at right tackle. Kelly doesn't seem to be a favorite of the staff but will likely see more playing time as long as the other guys are out with injuries. If he is on the bench, there is at least the feeling you can count on him if his number is called.
T) Kevin Graf: He was up-and-down this preseason and is likely more of a Tobin-like project this season after being signed off the practice squad. It will not be a good thing if he gets playing time.
C) Jason Kelce: It was reported on Monday that Kelce suffered a sports hernia and will need surgery. While he is only expected to miss 6-8 weeks, he will have to take up a roster spot as he recovers. If he can return from surgery in good shape, he and Mathis will be huge reliefs as the Eagles look to make a run at the playoffs.
G) Evan Mathis: He will return at some point in November and will be crucial in the Eagles quest for a playoff run. He is a top 5 player on this team and will provide a huge boost to the lineup upon his return.
T) Allen Barbre: He's done for the year, but wasn't playing all that well prior to the injury. He just signed an extension this off-season so hopefully he can recover and perform at a higher level next season.
T) Lane Johnson: He is one game away from returning to Philadelphia. While he may not play immediately after his suspension lifts, it's nice to know that the Eagles will be 3-1 at worst in the time that he has missed. Johnson has been keeping in football shape and working out in Texas and should be ready to prove his worth. Having Johnson return to the lineup entering the second quarter of the season will at least provide another starting caliber player in the lineup.