Herremans out, Vandervelde in on Eagles offensive line

Todd Herremans will miss the rest of the season with an injury to his right foot.
Todd Herremans will miss the rest of the season with an injury to his right foot. (RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: November 08, 2012

OFFENSIVE LINES value continuity, consider it crucial to success.

Continuity remains an unfamiliar concept to the Eagles' disaster-area o-line, which again faced changes Wednesday.

The leader of the group, Todd Herremans, went on injured reserve for the rest of the season, after suffering what head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder described as a "very rare" foot injury that involved a dislocated cuboid bone, bone fractures caused by the dislocation, and tendon and ligament damage also incurred when the bone flexed out of position. Herremans landed awkwardly on his right foot Monday night at New Orleans, leaping to avoid a downed defensive lineman.

Julian Vandervelde, a guard and center, came up from the practice squad to take Herremans' roster spot Wednesday. Demetress Bell, who struggled when tossed into Herremans' right tackle position against the Saints, moved back to the more familiar left tackle spot for Wednesday's practice, with the more versatile King Dunlap moving from left to right tackle.

The only member of the 2011 Eagles offensive line expected to take the field this weekend against Dallas is left guard Evan Mathis.

"It's a little weird. It's like a 'Final Destination' kind of thing. Hopefully, I don't get hit by a bus or anything," Mathis said.

"Yeah, that hurts. He's definitely the leader on the o-line, one of the leaders of the team," said rookie right guard Dennis Kelly, when asked about the loss of Herremans. Kelly seems likely to start his third game in a row [and third game ever] this weekend against the Cowboys, with Danny Watkins [ankle] sitting out Wednesday's practice.

"Commit to doing that extra film work, even working together a little bit [extra] to try to build some continuity," Kelly said, when asked what the embattled group can do. Quarterback Michael Vick was sacked seven times in New Orleans, has gone down 27 times this season. "That's a big thing with the offensive line; if you can just do the little things, to try and build a little bit of rhythm with each other, that would be great."

Burkholder said Herremans is still gathering opinions on whether surgery will be necessary, but either way, he should be fine for training camp next July. "I think the outcome of this can be very good," Burkholder said, though he said he knew of only a few such cases in the NFL, including that of former Kansas City running back Larry Johnson. "The [remaining part of the] season is short, when you talk about this type of injury."

Mathis said the line is not in chaos, or disarray.

"There's no drop-off in preparation, there's no dropoff in belief; everybody still believes in each other, believes in the coaches," Mathis said, after explaining that "the key word for everything that's happening is that it's just really frustrating, that we haven't performed to the level that we expected of ourselves and that's expected of us."

The line's collapse has brought scrutiny to offensive line coach Howard Mudd, a revered figure in the NFL who was part of a Super Bowl victory with Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Mathis said coaching isn't an issue.

"We practice very well. If someone is doing something wrong, it's brought up and it's corrected . . . the breakdowns are on us as players, not executing the way we should be. The coaching is perfect."

Mudd, Mathis said "has got to be frustrated, he is frustrated with us. But he doesn't let that get in the way of his coaching. He still communicates in a very professional manner what we need to correct."

Kelly was asked about Monday's meltdown.

"They brought a lot of pressure, and I think that led to us having a lot of miscommunication, just a little confusion over who was getting who, where was the MIKE backer, things like that," Kelly said. "That's where we've just got to build that rhythm, build that continuity, like I was saying. Just have the trust in each other . . . know the assignment before we have to call it out."

Bell said though he has practiced on both sides, he had never played on the right side before being thrust into Herremans' spot near the end of the first quarter.

Mudd said a few weeks back that when things go bad in a game, o-linemen get flustered and start thinking about the opponent, instead of focusing on the details of the task at hand. It sounded like that was what Bell was describing, when asked what he saw on Monday night's film, which showed him taking penalties for illegally being downfield and false-starting within a three-snap span, both infractions coming in the red zone.

"I could have stayed focused, stayed grounded," Bell said. "I think I started out good, I just started thinking too much. Things started going haywire from there."

Now, Bell is back on the left, just in time to face Cowboys star DeMarcus Ware, who has nine sacks. The entire Eagles team has 11.

"I look forward to it, man. I love challenges," said Bell. "He's probably the best pass rusher in the league. He can run stop . . . quickness, strength, agility - he's got it all."

Last year, the Eagles had All-Pro Jason Peters to line up against Ware. Peters tore his Achilles' twice last spring; he was declared eligible to practice this week, raising the possibility he could rejoin the roster within 3 weeks, though Peters did not practice Wednesday.

"They come in cycles," Burkholder said, when asked about all the offensive line injuries. He said back when he worked for the Steelers, "I had a game where three guys tore their ACLs, three different guys. It happens."

The rash of injuries is good news for Vandervelde, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Eagles in 2011. He was cut in the preseason, picked up by the Bucs, cut by the Bucs, signed to their practice squad, cut from that, brought back to the Eagles as a practice-squadder, before finally making it back to the Birds' roster Wednesday.

"I always thought I'd be back in Philadelphia. The situation in which I find myself back on [the 53-man] is tragic, with four of our starters from last year down," Vandervelde said. "All I can do is make the most of the opportunity."

Contact Les Bowen at bowenl@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' blog at eagletarian.com.

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