When asked ‘What made you think Jason Peters can play right guard?’ during a virtual press conference last week, Doug Pederson said the team believes it will be “relatively easy” for the 38-year-old left tackle to make that transition. Philadelphia Eagles offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland further supported that sentiment by talking about how Peters’ teammates look at him like “he can do anything.”
But not everyone is so sold that the Eagles’ new experiment will go off without a hitch. I caught up with former Eagles All-Pro left tackle Tra Thomas — who used to co-host on BGN Radio’s SportsRadio 94WIP show — to talk about a number of offensive line topics, including Peters’ position change. This interview was originally supposed to be posted in podcast form but some audio issues prevented that from happening. So, read on for a transcript of our conversation instead.
Oh, and make sure to follow Tra on Twitter (@72TraThomas) to stay up to date with his great new “Trench Talk” video series on YouTube.
BLG: So, can Jason Peters actually play right guard?
THOMAS: That’s the question, man. To me, he’s been in a left-handed stance for 14, 15 years now. And you’re going to say, alright, let’s switch over and we’re going to move you over to the right side and, oh yeah, we’re gonna bump you down to guard? I think that’s a big ask. Especially when you don’t have any preseason games, any warmup, you’re not going through OTAs, you’re not going through any of that. Training camp is going to be modified. So you’re pretty much going to go from, hey, let’s move you over to right guard from a couple practices and then now they’re just going to throw you in the live fire in a game. That’s a big ask, when you’re asking someone that’s been in a left-handed stance for so long. I think over the past few years he’s probably gone over to the right side in an unbalanced formation, when it was short-yardage or goal line situations, maybe once or twice. And that’s probably the only time you’ve seen him in a right-handed stance. But other than that, he’s been on the left side of the ball. I think when you say ‘Does he have the skill to do it?’ Absolutely. He has the skill, he can create the power. But the problem is, is just the uncomfortableness of being on the other side of the ball and just the durability part of it. If you were getting banged up dealing with defensive ends, now you’re dealing with bigger bodies, guys that are the Fletcher Cox’s of the world, on a weekly basis.
BLG: What’s your confidence level in Peters playing right guard? Are you feeling confident or concerned?
THOMAS: I’m feeling concerned. I’m really feeling concerned about throwing JP in there at right guard. Only because he doesn’t have any preseason games to kind of get ready. Now, are you really going to have guys going at him like that in practice? Because that’s what’s going to have to happen. You know, you can’t go from pitter-patter to now you’re going to get out there and it’s going to be full tilt against some of these defensive tackles that are going to be coming after you. So that means practice is not going to be like how it was before, where you could go out there and chill, you have a young rusher that’s not going to really challenge you. You’re playing a totally different position, so now that means you have to get challenged on the regular in practice. Are they going to make that happen for him? Are they really going to do that? Are you really going to have Fletcher Cox — and I think Fletcher Cox will give it to him — but are you really going to have any of these other defensive tackles that’s going to out there and challenge him? And he has to be up for the challenge. And it’s going to look ugly. It’s going to look ugly. You’re going to get put on your ass a couple times. It’s going to happen. And not to say that’s a bad thing, everybody that’s played in those trenches on the offensive line has been put on they ass. That’s just part of what we do as offensive lineman. You’ve got to learn from it and let’s move on. But it’s going to look ugly a little bit just because it’s foreign to him. And it’s totally different when you’re taking sets in the grass when nobody’s there. But when you’re out there and it’s 3rd-and-10, and you’re tired, and things are going on and you have to get out there and make that right set, then now you’re really going to see what’s happening. And I’m telling you, I think that a lot of defensive coaches, if I was on the defensive side of the ball, I would spread them out a little bit. I would make sure to hold Kelce so he can’t slide to [Peters] and let’s see, let’s see where he is.
BLG: How much does it help playing between two All Pro caliber players in Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson?
THOMAS: Well, okay, yeah, so that might help him … but it’s going to expose the other side of the ball. Because now you’re saying, hey, if you’re going to slide the line to help JP out, then that means you’re going to put Dillard and Isaac [Seumalo] on an island. And if you start doing that, then that’s going to be a problem, because if I was a defensive coach and I knew that they’re bringing somebody that hasn’t been in a right-handed stance for 14 years, what I would do is play a five-man front. I’m going to put a five-man front out there, put them all in spacing. Whoever that JP has to block, I’m going to put them all the way on the 4I, where he’s over Lane Johnson, put him in space, and then now let’s go get after it. Because now I’m going to make sure that Kelce can’t slide to him. And if they start getting into situations — because that offensive line, they DO tend to slide to protect players on the line instead of sliding to protect the quarterback, then now you forced them to slide to JP and you brought all the blitzes and stunts over to the left side. So, this is going to be a lot going on out there that has to happen really quick … without any preseason games!
BLG: How much of a leash do you think Andre Dillard has at left tackle? And how do you feel if you’re him seeing the Eagles bring back a future Hall of Famer? Do you think he feels threatened?
THOMAS: Yeah, and you don’t want a player like that. You don’t want a player to feel like he’s unsure of himself. You need him to come out there for every game with a total confidence that he’s your guy. And I think that Dillard can play the game but what are you going to coach him? If you’re going to have him out there saying, alright, you’re going to go out there and catch these defensive ends, it’s going to be a problem. Now, I don’t care who you put out there, if you don’t teach them to sit out there and take the right set and punch and deliver his hands, it’s going to be a problem for anybody out there. So I think that Dillard seeing JP coming back, that does kinda raise some questions that might make him doubt what’s going on a little bit. And I think also you say, alright, yeah, if Matt Pryor doesn’t pan out over there [at right guard], then we put JP out there. Or if Dillard isn’t where he needs to be, then alright, JP you go back home and Pryor you be our guy [at right guard]. It kind of helps them a little bit but I think Dillard is your guy. But what does [potentially replacing him with Peters] say about not only who brought [Dillard] in but also the coaching staff as well? Because you can’t get our first-round draft pick up to speed? To get him ready to go? That we have to come back and bring JP back? What does that say about your coach?
BLG: What are your thoughts on Jeff Stoutland in general?
THOMAS: I think Coach Stout, when it comes to run blocking he is extremely good when it comes to mate blocking and talking about combination blocks and all of that stuff. I think where he starts lacking is when you start talking about protection. When you start talking about the finer points and techniques of protection. I think that’s where he kind of struggles. And you can see it where you see guys, when you can start seeing what’s being taught across the board, is when I can look at Dillard, I can look at Isaac, I can look at — Brandon Brooks, he punches, he’s been delivering his hands a lot better. But then you when you even see Jordan Mailata when he’s back there, they’re out there catching. They’re out there, hands down, those double underhand hooks. Yeah, that was cool if you’re in college and you’re dealing with guys that are bull-rushing all the time. But when you have crafty rushers that are you going to give you that but and go, that’s going to work cleaner hands? Then now you need to go and be a little bit more creative. And I think sometimes he lets a couple of thing slide when it comes to protection rules, where they get outside of the rules of protection. There was one clip that I posted and I posted it a lot against Dallas where you had [a defender] come off the right side of the blitz, and they slid left, but it was a three-step formation where you had trips to the rights, which is the passing strength is to the right, running back to the left, it was a slide protection. Instead of sliding right, they slid left. You as a coach need to hold that accountable! They brought the nickel, it was a basic corner blitz, that should not have happened! Why was that not corrected? And you saw it so much throughout the film that I’m like, what’s going on? Why is this not being corrected? Is it Coach Stoutland or is it Kelce? Which one is it? And you saw it a lot of times, especially when you got out there and you started seeing guys against New England where they had all of those guys […] and everybody’s roaming around. Well, you’ve got to declare the known rusher. And on that particular play, because it was mucked up, they have three linebackers in there, and all you had to do was declare one of them as the known rusher and they would’ve turned into a nickel formation, a nickel defense, but he didn’t do that. They didn’t do that. Why wasn’t that talked about in practice? Why wasn’t that coached up? Why are you not checking Kelce and telling him, ‘Hey, man, you’ve got to stick to the rules of the protection.’ This is football 101! Especially when you’re dealing with— But that’s just my take on it. But at the end of the day, he’s the Super Bowl champion coach and you’ve gotta respect it. The protection, that’s where he kind of starts to show himself. That’s just my thing. But you can still, like they work by looking at him, like ‘you should’ve coached that up a little bit differently.
BLG: You were high on Matt Pryor before the Eagles re-signed Peters. How are you feeling about him?
THOMAS: When I watch those two games [he played last season], even though it’s a very little amount of film on him, I thought he did hell of a job in those two games. At first, when I watched it live, I really wasn’t all that impressed. But when I sat down and I really went through the film and watched each snap and recorded and looked back at what his responsibilities were and what he did, I thought that he did a hell of a job. When he came in, there wasn’t a big drop-off. A lot of people are like, well, Brandon Brooks went down, there was a big drop-off when Matt Pryor came in. There was no drop-off at all! I mean, he came out there and did a really good job. When it came to run blocking, he was able to create movement. Got to his linebacker, whatever read it was he had to handle. When it came to protection, he did a really good job of taking the proper set based on where that defensive tackle was. And he did a good job of delivering his hands. I thought that Matt Pryor was extremely physical, he played a hard game. My only critique for Matt Pryor is to finish every play. To just go out there and just be nasty and grind a cat into the ground. But I thought that he came out there and held his own and he did a really good job. Especially when he came in after the half against Seattle [in Week 12]. I think he did a hell of a job. And then he goes out there against New York [in Week 17] and then he showed that — I know they didn’t have to worry about it as much, because of what’s going on with the stadium, you don’t know what’s going on with fans — but he was able to go in and handle the silent count. Because that right guard, when you’re on the road, that’s the guy that has to handle the silent count and has to look back at [Carson] Wentz and all that, tap the center and then now he’s usually the one that has to block on the fly. I think he did a hell of a job. And I go to know him and I just hit him up [after the Peters re-signing] and was like ‘Hey, man, just stay focused.’ Because that’s all you can do. I hope that JP pans out but I do want Matt Pryor to stay focused and know that he’s ready to go. Because they might need him.
BLG: How are you feeling about some of these other young backups like Jordan Mailata, Jack Driscoll, and Prince Tega Wanogho?
THOMAS: Jordan, man, he’s one of those guys that I wish I could work with. Just come here, let me work with you. Put that damn guitar down and let me work with you. Let’s work on this. Forget all that Tennessee whiskey, put that down. Let’s get this game. Because, man, he has the size, he has the mobility, he has all the tools. I really wish I could sit there and work with him because he has everything that you need. He’s just raw. But I think you look at some of the games, I thought he did a solid job. I went and went through way too many preseason games. I was burned out. I was like, I can’t do any more. But I thought that he was alright. You could tell that he’s out there with the double underhand hooks. He’s catching. He’s not really punching, not delivering hands, not creating movement. But as a taller blocker, I wish I could work with him.
I think Prince is going to come in and might be your swing guy. I saw when he was at Auburn, that he was one of the guys that could go from left to right-handed stance. I don’t think Jack would do it as much because when he had the chance to go over to the left side of the ball, he stayed in a right-handed stance. And you don’t want to do that in this league. If you switch over the left side, you need to get in a left-handed stance. You can’t go from right to left and stay in a right-handed stance, they will eat you alive over there. But I think that Prince seems like he would probably be your swing tackle if you needed somebody to come in and be that guy.
But, again, I think Jordan has all the tool and the size, everything. He just needs somebody to teach him the way of the tackle. And I think that Jack is going to fill in where we need to, but I haven’t really watched too much of that film because what you did in college really doesn’t matter anymore now. We’re going to have to see what you do on this level.
BLG: Thoughts on the state of the offensive line and then the team overall?
THOMAS: This is my thing, they should’ve won Super Bowl MVP really. I know that’s my unpopular opinion. You know, you always give it to the quarterback. Well, he didn’t get touched! So he should’ve thrown for 300-some yards! He didn’t get touched! I think he was hit maybe four or five times that entire game and they ran for, what, 180 yards that game? Man, the offensive line should’ve won Super Bowl MVP. But they always wanna give it to the quarterback or whatever.
I think when you look at them across the board [now], they always come and have them ranked as being No. 1 or No. 2 in the league. The best of the group. But then you go back and look at their numbers and see how they finish off at the end of the season and it’s mediocre. Because you look at the offense and you say okay, well, they finished 14th in the league in total offense. 11th in the league in run and whatever it is in the pass. That’s not top, top notch. So when you look at just the numbers, you gave up 37 sacks last year, when you look into the preseason I think a total of 44 sacks. Over 100 quarterback hits. You haven’t had a quarterback finish the season in a couple years now. You know what I’m saying? Is that the best in the league? I’m just being honest. That’s just what I’m looking at. That year they won the Super Bowl, they finished third in the league in rushing. But then now you’re down to the 10th, 11th, 12th, you’re middle of the range. To me, that’s not best in the league.