Eagles' Reid again trots out another patchwork O-line

On Sunday, Michael Vick will be under center behind a rookie center and two new guards on the offensive line. (David Maialetti/Staff file photo)
On Sunday, Michael Vick will be under center behind a rookie center and two new guards on the offensive line. (David Maialetti/Staff file photo)
Posted: September 08, 2011

Andy Reid shouldn't worry. Nobody is going to jump to conclusions about first-round pick Danny Watkins just because the rookie isn't ready to start at guard in Week 1 against a blitz-happy Rams defense. Nobody rational, anyway.

The decision, after all, says much more about Reid than about Watkins. Two years after an ill-fated attempt to retool his offensive line, Reid is about to start this season of high expectations with the very definition of a patchwork line in front of Michael Vick.

Once again, a carefully designed plan was followed by a frantic scramble to regroup after the plan turned to muck. Or, in this case, Mudd.

On Sunday, in a dome, the Eagles will start a rookie center between two new guards who were discarded by their previous teams. The tackles will be Jason Peters, the only returner at his position, and Todd Herremans, who is making the difficult switch from left guard to right tackle.

In April, Reid explained the decision to draft the 26-year-old Watkins, despite his advanced age and relative lack of football experience, by claiming the erstwhile firefighter could step right in and start at guard or tackle. On Wednesday, we learned Watkins would sit behind Kyle DeVan, who will be in his sixth full day as an Eagle.

"When you move from college to the pros," Reid said of Watkins, "that's a tough deal. When you move from tackle to guard, that's another tough deal. And when you move from the left side to the right side, that's another tough deal. Then you add on to it missing part of camp. So he's been playing a catch-up game all the way through."

That's true. It was also true in April, when Reid anointed Watkins a starter on draft day.

Since the beginning of time, or at least the introduction of the forward pass, we have been told that continuity and synchronization were vital to successful offensive line play. Now we learn that it just doesn't matter if the five linemen have never taken so much as a preseason snap together.

This would be easier to buy if the salesman hadn't pulled this bait and switch on us before.

Two years ago, Reid made the timely but difficult decision to part ways with bookend tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan. He traded for Peters to play left tackle. He signed Stacy Andrews. He moved Andrews from right tackle, where he'd been successful, to right guard. He moved onetime first-round pick Shawn Andrews, Stacy's brother, from right guard to right tackle.

As we know, that plan crumbled by the end of training camp. Winston Justice, who had been all but consigned to the scrap heap, became the right tackle. Nick Cole, an undrafted free agent, started at right guard.

Shockingly, Donovan McNabb was injured in the season opener.

Ultimately, that line settled in and performed respectably enough through an 11-5 regular season. It was overrun in a blowout playoff loss in Dallas, partly because of an injury to center Jamaal Jackson.

Last year, Kevin Kolb was injured in the first game. Once again, the line (and the rest of the team) seemed ill-prepared for the start of the season. The line came together enough for the offense to be productive, but not enough to prevent Reid from making wholesale offseason changes.

"They're trying to fix the problems we had last year," Herremans said.

Reid hired Howard Mudd to replace longtime line coach Juan Castillo. He drafted Watkins with the 23d pick in the first round. He drafted Jason Kelce in the sixth round to play a position, center, that has typically taken a year or more of apprenticeship.

The commitment to Mudd's philosophy led to major upheaval. Mainstays like Cole, Mike McGlynn and Max Jean-Gilles - who made a combined total of 70 starts for this team - were out. Ryan Harris (since released with an injury settlement), Evan Mathis, and DeVan were in.

It is a lot of change. Is it too much?

"I think there have been a lot of people rotating in with the ones throughout the whole preseason," Kelce said. "We really didn't even set a starting unit in the preseason until that very last week so I think that guys are used to working with different guys, guys are used to dealing with adversity and everything thrown in there."

Normally, "dealing with adversity" means injuries or tough losses, not trying to prepare for a game while the coaches change the personnel every other day. If this line isn't ready Sunday, it will be because of the plan, or lack of it.

Maybe the line will come together, as it has in previous years. If Vick becomes the third QB in three years to be knocked out of the season opener, that may be small consolation.

Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his past columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan

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