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Eagles one of only five NFL teams to return entire starting offensive line in 2018

How much does continuity actually matter?

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles are one of only five NFL teams that currently project to return all five starters in 2018 for Week 1. Thomas Emerick put a chart together showing how the entire league stacks up:

Upon seeing this, I tried to think back to the last time the Eagles did this. It didn’t come to me off the top of my head, so I looked it up via Ourlads’ depth charts. Your answer: the 2008 season.

Eagles Week 1 Offensive Line Combinations

Year LT LG C RG RT
Year LT LG C RG RT
2018 Jason Peters Stefen Wisniewski Jason Kelce Brandon Brooks Lane Johnson
2017 Jason Peters Isaac Seumalo Jason Kelce Brandon Brooks Lane Johnson
2016 Jason Peters Allen Barbre Jason Kelce Brandon Brooks Lane Johnson
2015 Jason Peters Allen Barbre Jason Kelce Andrew Gardner Lane Johnson
2014 Jason Peters Evan Mathis Jason Kelce Todd Herremans Allen Barbre*
2013 Jason Peters Evan Mathis Jason Kelce Todd Herremans Lane Johnson
2012 King Dunlap Evan Mathis Jason Kelce Danny Watkins Todd Herremans
2011 Jason Peters Evan Mathis Jason Kelce Danny Watkins Todd Herremans
2010 Jason Peters Todd Herremans Nick Cole Reggie Wells Winston Justice
2009 Jason Peters Todd Herremans Jamaal Jackson Shawn Andrews Stacy Andrews
2008 Tra Thomas Todd Herremans Jamaal Jackson Shawn Andrews Jon Runyan
2007 Tra Thomas Todd Herremans Jamaal Jackson Shawn Andrews Jon Runyan

Now, obviously the Eagles won’t be returning the SAME exact lineup as they had in Week 1 of the 2017 season. The difference is that Isaac Seumalo, who only made two starts at left guard before getting benched, is on the bench with Stefen Wisniewski replacing him.

But Wis started most of last year anyway. He received playing time (in a very odd left guard rotation with Chance Warmack) as early as Week 3 before finishing the season with 14 total starts, including the playoffs. Even before becoming the full-time starter in 2017, Wis had gained experience playing next to Jason Peters and Jason Kelce in 2016 when he played in 16 games and started six.

Switching over to the right side of the offensive line, you can see that Kelce, Brooks, and Johnson are now entering their third season together. I asked Brooks about how much continuity actually matters after the Eagles’ OTA practice on Tuesday.

I guess being a guy who came in as a rookie and tried to establish that when I was in Houston, and then a guy who left one place and came here, pretty much with both tackles and Kelce being cemented in, trying to work with them, it means a lot.

And what I mean by that is, I guess it doesn’t mean as much as you think, but it means more than you think. And what I mean by that is, like, with the basic stuff about the game, you know, you can figure out on your own. But there’s certain things in like tight situations … a front that you haven’t seen before. Or a blitz in the heat of the moment. You have that camaraderie where it’s almost like you know what [your teammate] is thinking before he even has to say anything. I think that’s where we got as an offensive line, where … it’s a ton of a different looks [we have to face]. It’s the defense’s job, obviously, to confuse you and hide and disguise stuff. But with what we have up front, we’re always all on the same page. We’re always communicating back and forth. There’s nobody who’s trying to second guess anybody or in the back of their head be like ‘I don’t know if that’s the right call.’ If Kelce makes the call, we’re all sold 100%. Either we’re all going to be right, or we’re all going to be wrong. And I think we’re comfortable with that. We’re comfortable, obviously, with Kelce as the center. And he’s been there for a long time at a high level. Smart guy. I think that’s where it really comes in handy. Where you don’t have time to actually communicate, you just need to know. There’s different times where, it’s either me or Lane, or say it’s me and Kelce, and I’m sure each guy has a different story where something happens and you don’t know why you did it, but you just did it.

I posed the same question to Johnson.

That’s really key. The longer you have these guys playing together, the more reps you have, more snap counts, the better you’re going to play together. The more rhythm you’re going to be in. That’s really what it is. Cohesive unit. It’s not like anybody else. […] More than any other position, with the offensive line, I feel like you have to be in sync. You can miss a blitz, you can miss a call, bad things happen. So the more snaps you can get in, the better rhythm and it all starts to come together.

But as Brooks told me, it’s not always just about who’s lining up directly next to you. It’s still important to have a communication with the opposite side of the line.

It does [matter] because the tackle is taught just like the guard is taught. Usually defenses switch us depending on what your formation is. Some defenses, one guy plays one side, another guy plays the other side. It’ll be a guy who pretty much plays one side, and a guy who pretty much plays that side and he comes to over to this side and I haven’t seen him, I’ll be like ‘Wis, what’s he giving you over there? What pass rush? How is he playing you?’ We’ll just do it across. Tackles do the same thing. So it doesn’t necessarily matter, like, if it’s me or Lane or Me and Kelce. If it’s something like how a guy is playing, or any tip you can give, you’re going to ask the guy across, who’s already seen him.

Earlier this offseason, I was talking to former Eagles All-Pro and current BGN Radio member Tra Thomas about the importance of offensive line continuity. He said it’s not an overblown topic and he even shared an anecdote about how when he used to play, the Eagles o-line would even line up like they did in games whenever they were hanging out off the field. Whether that was at a bar or wherever, Tra would be on the left with Big Jon Runyan all the way on the right. Funny, right?

In 2017, the Eagles had one of the best offensive lines in the entire NFL. One could argue it was THE best. It even held up when Peters suffered a season-ending injury and had to be replaced by Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Philadelphia’s line blocked for a rushing attack that averaged 4.5 yards per carry (tied for third best in the NFL) and for a passing game that produced a near-regular season MVP (Carson Wentz) and a Super Bowl MVP (Nick Foles).

It clearly bodes well for the Birds that this unit projects to be back in full force in 2018.