Eagles offensive line still scary

The Browns defensive line was able to get to Michael Vick early and often on Thursday. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
The Browns defensive line was able to get to Michael Vick early and often on Thursday. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 26, 2011

THE ST. LOUIS Rams' defense was ranked No. 7 in the NFL last season in sacks. The Atlanta Falcons' was No. 20. The New York Giants' was No. 5. That is how the Eagles' regular-season schedule opens.

At the Rams, at the Falcons, home for the semiannual blood sport against the Giants. That is what awaits quarterback Michael Vick and the unsettled, unsettling right side of his offensive line - two killers in the first 3 weeks, and also two dome games where the noise has a chance to shake the continuity of a shaky group of pass protectors.

Worried yet?

The best news for the line, after the Eagles rolled over the not-very-good Cleveland Browns last night, 24-14, is that the Sept. 11 season opener is still more than 2 weeks away. The next-best news is that the right side of the line against the Browns - rookie center Jason Kelce, rookie right guard Danny Watkins and stopgap right tackle King Dunlap - did appear to play better as its time on the field wore on.

But they were somewhere between pretty bad and godawful at the start, and that is the concern that will keep Andy Reid awake in the coming nights. Vick still holds the ball a little bit too long, and gets clobbered accordingly, and that will just add to the insomnia.

It cannot be stated often enough how important it will be this season for the quarterback and the line to conspire to find a way to keep Vick from getting killed in the same way he was in 2010. Well, maybe "killed" is too strong - because Vick survived so many of the hits and thrived so often amid the chaotic crush of bodies.

But whatever the appropriate verbiage, the point has been made and agreed to by everyone - Vick included.

And now we have this game to chew on. And this bold declaration from Vick, that whoever is out there on the offensive line, "I'm going to give defenses fits."

Or die trying.

Kelce was getting his first start at center in place of Jamaal Jackson, who was the established starter before getting hurt last season. It is obvious that they like Kelce, that he is in the smaller, athletic mold favored by new offensive-line coach Howard Mudd.

The organizational body language suggests that they are really hoping Kelce wins the job - although Reid said last night he didn't know who the starter would be. Based on this game, though, Kelce remains a work in progress. He had a nice downfield block on Ronnie Brown's 13-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, but he had his hands quite full in pass protection.

And Kelce said that Vick getting hit so much was "unacceptable." True enough.

Next to him was Watkins, the first-round draft choice. He, like Kelce, had no minicamps and other spring-training work, and he also missed several days of the abbreviated training camp because his agent and the club couldn't agree on a contract, and it has not been a seamless transition into the big leagues.

Watkins has the job, and that is not even a topic of conversation. But he struggled at times last night in pass protection, really in everything, and he needs more work. Reid has never put his starters out there in the final exhibition game, but this season might be the exception. Both Watkins and Kelce need the reps.

Finally, there is Dunlap at right tackle, there by default because Winston Justice has not yet practiced because of a 2010 knee injury and free-agent acquisition Ryan Harris has not practiced since injuring his oft-injured back in the first exhibition game. Harris now apparently will see some kind of back specialist. This doesn't sound like a signing that is going to work out.

The thought is that Justice could practice this week. In the past, when he's been good, he's been good enough. To be fair to Dunlap, he shows flashes of good enough, too. But this is a team that is talking about winning a Super Bowl, which begs the question: Is good enough good enough?

"The more that we can do as a unit, the more complete" the line will be, left guard Todd Herremans said, even if he doesn't know who the center is going to be.

This is the decision they will have to make, and everyone knows it: to go with Dunlap or Justice at right tackle, and hope, or to move Herremans over from left guard and then insert, say, Jamaal Jackson into Herremans' old spot. Jackson is a pro and would be a stable player, and Herremans would settle down a right side desperately in need of some settling.

That's the move.

After last night, it would seem to be time to make it.

Read Rich's blog, The Idle Rich, at


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