It’s Memorial Day weekend, and NFL training camps will be opening two months from now. Many talking heads have already crowned the Eagles as Super Bowl favorites—as they should be.
What is rarely broached, however, is how the Eagles will fill the hole on the right side of their offensive line.
Defensively, the Eagles were hit hard by the free-agent losses of defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, defensive backs C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps, and linebackers T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White.
What could actually sting the Eagles the hardest may be what they lost to free agency on offense: right guard Isaac Seumalo, who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Before the 2023 NFL Draft, former Eagle and current NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, one of the most respected eyes in the game, said this about the loss of Seumalo in regard to Eagles’ center Jason Kelce, right tackle Lane Johnson and where Cam Jurgens, whose natural position is at center, fits:
“Lane wants to play next to a big guy like (former Eagle Brandon) Brooks and Seumalo. He doesn’t want to play next to (Cam) Jurgens, a 300-pound center. They’re not going to get any movement … Seumalo is much better than people gave him credit for. He didn’t make mental errors. He comes from a football family. He had less than five penalties last year. The Eagles couldn’t afford him. He played between 330-335 pounds, and you never had to worry about the guy. And he was large. Jurgens isn’t 310. He’s a pumped up 300. He’s purely a center. Lane and Kelce know that better than anyone.”
The Eagles drafted 6-foot-6, 321-pound offensive lineman Tyler Steen out of Alabama in the third round with the 65th overall pick. He was previously at Vanderbilt for four years before becoming a redshirt senior last season at Alabama, where he was named second-team All-SEC, and Alabama’s Offensive Player of the Week by the Crimson Tide coaching staff three times as an anchor at left tackle.
Jurgens is currently penciled in at right guard, with Steen as his back-up.
But can that work?
Steen has never played guard before. Jurgens, as Baldinger stated, is undersized, which would give the Eagles a potential problem in supporting the undersized Kelce. National NFL analyst Adam Caplan had the following to say:
“The Eagles have one significant issue on the offensive line and it’s at right guard. The Eagles feel confident Tyler Steen can do it, but he has never played guard before. The Eagles aren’t the only team that saw this. It’s a fact: He has short arms for a left tackle. Usually, for a guy who is 6-6, your arms are 33½-, 34½ -, 35-inches long. His arms are in the 32-plus range, and that’s short, but the Eagles feel they know the player well and they’ve done their homework on him.
“They feel he will make the transition to guard. I would say Steen is the favorite going in (to training camp). I just don’t think Cam Jurgens is a guard. He’s more of a center. Jack Driscoll is an invaluable back-up, and he’s good enough to get you out of a tough spot, three or four games, no problem. But to ask him to start 17 games, plus the playoffs, I think that you’re asking for too much from him. It makes sense that Steen moves to right guard.”
Caplan agrees Jurgens is not big enough. The problem is Jurgens may want to get on the field, instead of waiting another year as Kelce’s successor.
With Jurgens next to Kelce, the Eagles would have two centers—and two smallish centers, by NFL standards—next to each other. For how great Kelce is, he’s benefited from large, mobile guards like Seumalo (6-4, 303) and Landon Dickerson (6-6, 330) as bookends. It freed Kelce up to get down field, as Seumalo and Dickerson absorbed the heat.
Caplan, who co-hosts the Inside the Birds podcast with Geoff Mosher, noted that Jurgens was cross trained at guard last season.
“Isaac was a big loss and the Eagles just didn’t want to play him. Usually, your guards are more stout guys, more powerful guys, and that’s really not Jurgens. He is more of an athlete. Most centers aren’t very big. It’s rare to find an NFL center at 335, 330, it’s just not the way centers are built. There will be a battle at right guard. Not every team had Steen as highly rated as the Eagles did. Remember, because of the short arms, he was projected to play guard, a position he’s never played before. By late August, it should be Steen there. If someone like (Eagles’ renowned offensive line coach) Jeff Stoutland thinks he can do it, that’s good enough for me.”
For Steen to get there will come with trial and error. Because he’s inside, the Eagles may be able to hide Steen early in the season as he develops. By the time the gauntlet of the Eagles’ season hits (Nov. 5-Dec. 10: Cowboys, Chiefs, Bills, 49ers and Cowboys), maybe Steen will evolve into who the Eagles think he is.
Otherwise, the Eagles could be facing a looming large hole at right guard.
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Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.