Les Bowen: Mathis signing assures Eagles o-line continuity

Posted: March 20, 2012

DURING MUCH of the Andy Reid era, the offensive line has been an orderly kind of place, excepting the occasional anomaly, such as the great Shawn and Stacy Andrews adventure of 2009.

Then last year, Reid brought in Howard Mudd as his offensive-line coach, and training camp suddenly took on a different tone. Befuddled rookies and brand-new free agents milled about, crashing into one another and nearly getting Michael Vick killed a couple of times in the chaotic preseason. Solid vets such as Jamaal Jackson, Winston Justice and Mike McGlynn, once prized by o-line-coach-turned-defensive-coordinator Juan Castillo, weren't deemed capable of starting under Mudd.

"I knew we were going to be OK at some point," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said yesterday, right after Evan Mathis' news conference celebrating his 5-year, $25 million deal. All five of last season's o-line starters now are signed at least through 2014. "Just how quick it was going to happen was the key . . . It was about every 3 days we were putting another right tackle in there. Sort of a revolving door there. [Eventually] we had rookie center, rookie right guard, left guard moved to right tackle, and then Evan had a heckuva year at the left-guard spot. The new contract he just signed, he earned that thing."

Mudd was not available yesterday to discuss his creation, which figures to be one of the team's key strong points this coming season. Mornhinweg was.

"Good teams have some continuity there," Mornhinweg said. "I know the fellows on the team are excited about that."

If you go back a decade or so to the Eagles teams that were driving fans crazy by losing the NFC Championship Game every year (as opposed to driving fans crazy by missing the playoffs while fielding a boatload of talent, the method utilized by last year's Eagles), those dominant regular-season squads had a stable o-line. Donovan McNabb knew what to expect from them, they knew how to block for him. We could be entering a similar era, with the notable difference that McNabb was entering his prime back then, and Vick turns 32 soon.

Jason Peters is a dominant Pro Bowler at left tackle. Mathis says he is a very young 30 at left guard. Jason Kelce had a standout rookie year at center, and says he is recovering nicely from offseason foot surgery. Danny Watkins, last year's first-round pick, overcame a slow start at right guard and should continue to improve. Todd Herremans, the guard-turned-emergency right tackle, was a rock, better than anyone could have predicted, as is reflected in his new deal, signed last week.

"Our skill guys are in pretty good shape, too, with DeSean [Jackson]'s situation taken care of there," Mornhinweg said. Pressed to identify offensive needs, the first thing the coordinator came up with was a third tight end behind Brent Celek and Clay Harbor. That's a pretty good position to be in, as Mornhinweg crafts his 2012 plan. His most crucial task is to cut down on the turnovers that killed the 2011 Birds; that isn't a personnel issue, or at least, with Vick established as the quarterback, it isn't a personnel issue the team is poised to address right now.

Getting Mathis back was the biggest remaining offensive issue, after Jackson signed his contract extension last week. The front office did not revel in reports suggesting it had gotten the best of agent Drew Rosenhaus, when Jackson settled for a $15 million guarantee; the Mathis talks were at a delicate stage and nobody wanted the superagent, who reps both players, to feel unloved.

But Mathis basically said yesterday that he wanted to come back to the Eagles all along, he and Eagles general manager Howie Roseman just needed another team to set the appropriate price. Baltimore obliged.

"I'm really lucky the Ravens got into it, so I could get this contract from the Eagles," Mathis said. "My situation's kind of a conundrum. I'm a journeyman-type guy who ends up having a great year and hits the market. Is it because I was in a system? Is it because I'm gonna be good? There's a lot of questions there. Whether or not there was a market was to be determined."

Mathis was a sub for the Bengals in 2010, started just seven games for them in 2009. Before last season, he'd been a full-time starter just once in his career, 2006 with Carolina, the year after the Panthers drafted him in the third round.

"Loved him from Day 1," Mornhinweg said of Mathis. "Said almost nothing and got his job done almost every play when he came into camp with us.

"Howie really liked him, from all his evaluations throughout the past several years. I knew there was a possibility [Mathis would have an impact]. Evan and I talked when he got here, that he was going to have an opportunity, make the most of it. You know him - he's going to make the most of every opportunity he gets. This an athletic, strong, smart lineman."

Mathis said he really didn't know that much about Mudd's preference for athletic linemen or how well this could all work out when he signed.

"My career has been a plethora of terrible timing. In 2011, everything was perfect timing," Mathis said. "The lesson is, be relentless. Believe in yourself, be relentless."

Mathis said he doubted Mudd had much to do with bringing him to the Eagles, but they clicked right away at Lehigh.

"In my eyes, my career started last year," Mathis said. "No serious injuries, no tread off my tires, I know I'm 30, but this 5-year contract will be no problem to play out for me."


Contact Les Bowen at

bowenl@phillynews.com or read the Daily News' Eagles blog at

www.eagletarian.com

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