Bell motivated to improve after demotion to second string

King Dunlap is the starting left tackle - for now.
King Dunlap is the starting left tackle - for now. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: August 15, 2012

BETHLEHEM - Fun fact: In 2011, Jason Peters was the only offensive lineman who started the three preseason games in which the Eagles played their starters, plus the season opener, in the same spot.

This bit of trivia would be a good thing to keep in mind in the wake of the recent demotion of Demetress Bell, the left tackle the Eagles signed to replace Peters, who is presumed out for the season with a twice-torn Achilles'.

Like so many before him, Bell is struggling with the unique Howard Mudd blocking style, which requires tackles to initiate contact with defensive ends, instead of dropping back to fend them off. Fifth-year sub King Dunlap, with a year's study of the ways of Mudd under his belt, has been tapped as the starter.

We'll see how long that lasts.

Center Jason Kelce was asked whether the abrupt switch - following a preseason opener in which Bell and the starting o-line logged all of six snaps - reflected the fact that Mudd can be a trifle impatient.

"Yes, very," Kelce said, laughing. "Demetress knows that. He knows that nothing's set in stone as of right now. Demetress was brought in here for a reason. That reason was really to start. But King's played very well here in training camp, and Demetress is still on that learning curve as far as the techniques and the plays are concerned. That's an ongoing battle, and he knows that. Right now, I think they're trying to put a guy in there who knows more the systems and the techniques.

"Physically, at the tackle position, it's just completely different from anything he's ever been a part of, I can guarantee you that. How aggressive they have to set, how in-your-face. I mean, he's just never had to do it."

Bell clearly isn't happy to running with the second team, but he also knows, as 4-year veteran of Buffalo, what a player says and doesn't say about coaching, if he wants to get his job back.

"I can't say I'm disappointed. It's not what I expected," Bell said Monday. "It's a coaching change, so, it is what it is.

"We only had six plays, you know? I guess I coulda did better in those six plays."

Bell could be this year's Danny Watkins. Last year, Watkins was a first-round rookie who initially was named the starter at right guard, then was yanked right before the season started, in favor of former Mudd pupil Kyle DeVan, picked up on waivers from the Colts. Watkins had to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions before he finally unseated DeVan for the fifth game of the season, at Buffalo.

"I told him he shouldn't be worried about it," Watkins said, when asked whether he'd spoken with Bell. "King's a good player, he's a good player . . . it's a learning process. Camp isn't a cakewalk. It's different when the bullets are flying. He's got time, that's the good news. The pressure's kind of been taken off of him, and it's good to be able to take that step back.

"It's such a night-and-day difference compared to what other teams do. It's definitely not something that you learn overnight or you learn in a week. It's different for everyone . . . he's had that [Bills] technique ingrained, then you come here and it's something totally different. It takes some time. When you start thinking, that's when you get hesitant. I've been there, so I really feel bad for him."

Asked what he thinks Mudd wants to see from him that he isn't seeing, Bell, 28, said: "Probably more consistency, I would say."

Being shuffled to the second team "definitely motivates me," Bell said.

"I'm looking to be a starter," he said. "Until I get back there, I won't be happy."

Bell said he didn't think he'd been a camp standout, but figured he was doing OK. He was asked whether the preseason game might have been the biggest factor - Bell gave up pressure, especially on the play on which Vick banged his throwing thumb on Kelce's helmet.

"I can't say [whether decision was based on the six plays]," Bell said. "I can't say."

Dunlap, meanwhile, remains hard to miss at 6-9, 330. The past few days of practice, he has had difficulty keeping Trent Cole out of the backfield when the first-team offense lines up against the first-team defense, but that hardly puts Dunlap in an exclusive club.

"Big King has played for us in the past and played very well," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "He's worked diligently in the offseason, he's playing very well early in camp, so he's earned that opportunity."

Dunlap is among those offering advice to Bell.

"I told Demetress, 'It's going to take some time to get used to it, it's something new,' " said Dunlap, who said he is nonetheless approaching this as if he will be the Eagles' starting left tackle for the entire 2012 season.

Dunlap recalled his rough transition to Mudd's way of doing things, which took place at last year's training camp, out of the glare of the starting spotlight.

"For me, smaller steps, me being as long as I am," Dunlap said. "I get overextended and get high at times."

Bell said he knew he was coming into something different from what he'd done previously.

"Once you go into a new system, it's always a struggle . . . you get into a rhythm. You just have to find that rhythm," he said. "It's technique, plays, snap count, it's everything, you know? It's everything all at once . . . communication up front . . . Everything is different from Buffalo."

Left guard Evan Mathis said he can play equally well with Dunlap or Bell on his left.

"Last year, we played the Buffalo game together," Mathis said of Dunlap. "I'm real comfortable with him, and I'm comfortable with Demetress."

Is dealing with change in the unit tough, with communication and synchronization so important to an o-line?

"Not compared to the challenges of last year," Mathis said. "Our starting offensive line wasn't together until Week 4 or 5 last year. Myself, I wasn't even in the rotation until well after [the Lehigh portion of] training camp. I think we can jell quickly when there's any changes made. Right now, it's just one change."


Contact Les Bowen at bowenl@phillynews.com.

Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen.

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read his blog at www.eagletarian.com.

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