The first eight Philadelphia Eagles training camp practices of 2015 featured a rotating cast at right guard. Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner, John Moffitt, and Julian Vandervelde each spent two days playing with the first team. But then the rotation suddenly stopped. And since then, it's been one player who has been working exclusively with the first team: Andrew Gardner. He also started the Eagles' first preseason game against the Colts on Sundayy.
For what it's worth, the 29-year-old Gardner isn't exactly the most popular option among Eagles fans:
But Gardner's lead shouldn't be a total surprise. He finished the season as Philadelphia's starting right guard following the team's decision to bench Tobin.
Gardner was up and down while starting the last six games of the 2014 season. He struggled a bit in pass protection by allowing four sacks, one quarterback hit, and seven quarterback hurries. Where Gardner excelled, however, was in the run game. Pro Football Focus rated Gardner 24th out of 78 guards when it came to run blocking. Here's an example of his ability to get push on a combo block with Jason Kelce from Sunday's game (via PhiladelphiaEagles.com):
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Gardner finished 34th out of 78 guards in PFF's overall grade. That's decent. For perspective, former Eagles starting right guard Todd Herremans ranked 57th overall last season.
While Gardner appears to be in the lead, Chip Kelly downplayed the notion he's the favorite to start following the Eagles-Colts game.
"He just rotated," Kelly said. "It wasn't a separation. I think it was just who we had in there the last day or so. It could be a new ‑‑ we are going to give all those guys an opportunity before we make a decision on what's going to go on there."
Despite this, Kelly did have some praise for Gardner prior to Tuesday's practice.
"The one thing about Andrew is he's very consistent and you know what you're getting," said Kelly. "He’s extremely intelligent, knows how to run angles and knows where he's going on every play. He does what you ask him to do.
"He's not a flashy guy that's going to go out there and you're going to see him drive some guy back 15 yards and put him on his back and pancake him, but he always seems to be in the right spot and I think he's worked really hard at it."
The Eagles originally signed Gardner in free agency last offseason. Not much was made of the signing at the time, so he's come a long way since then. The veteran feels like he's at an advantage with his second year in the system.
"I feel like it’s a good system fit," said Gardner. "Last summer, there was obviously an adjustment period where you learn the offense and everything. But in this offseason program, there was none of that. I knew everything so I was just really focusing on technique and less on making sure I was doing the right thing on every play."
Gardner also touched on the benefit of having chemistry with the offensive linemen next to him.
"Obviously the more reps you get, the more comfortable you are. I feel very comfortable with Lane [Johnson] and [Jason] Kelce. We got six games together last year. I think they feel the same way, I don't want to speak for them. But the more reps you get with somebody, the more comfortable you get."
Earlier in training camp, Kelly said the Eagles likely wouldn't finalize their decision on a starting guard until late in camp. There's still time for things to change. Until then, Gardner has the lead.