The last time Jason Peters was missing for an entire game or more was an entire season, 2012 to be exact. The very mention of that year rightfully gives Eagles fans the shudders. All that offset the badness of the season was a tremendous rookie class preceding it.
Andy Reid's green-mile in midnight green largely began with the news that Peters had ruptured his Achilles tendon in an offseason workout. Roughly six weeks after the potentially season-ending injury, Peters was reinjured when the equipment he was using to move around his house gave way, and the tendon was torn again.
Replacing Peters on Dream Team Mark II was yet another mercenary not worth the excitement, one Demetress Bell. The abandoned offspring of NBA icon Karl Malone, Bell received a five year contract with the Eagles, with his play barely worth the paper it was printed on. It was a bad omen when Bell, upon arriving in Philly, absent-mindedly admitted that the Eagles were last on his list of teams he wanted to play for.
Hardly a surprise that 2012 was Bell's last year of regular season action in the NFL. After a cup of coffee with the Cowboys in the following summer, Bell's NFL career has been extinguished.
Overachieving seventh-rounder King Dunlap worked to fill the void at left tackle when Bell was benched in November. There's an 'insufficient postage' joke there in regards to the Mailman's kid.
Evan Mathis would be the only desired starter to run the entire 2012 gauntlet. Breakout center Jason Kelce was lost for the season in Week Two with a torn ACL, while a foot injury shut down Todd Herremans in November. Danny Watkins, the guard maligned as being a bigger bust than even Freddie Mitchell, injured his ankle, and wasn't even re-inserted into the line-up when healthy.
Even grizzled taskmaster Howard Mudd couldn't spark life across the front. Then again, with retirement staring the 70-year old in his Jasper-beard, and disarray all around him, the will to instill perfection and discipline may have whittled away in the increasing winter freeze.
After Kelce went down, LeSean McCoy, in the ten games he played the rest of the way, only reached 100 rushing yards twice. The team, with Bryce Brown breaking out and Michael Vick still somewhat handy, only reached 100 yards as a whole in six of those 14 games. The team gave up 48 sacks that year; 28 for Vick and 20 for wet-behind-the-ears, not-the-savior-yet Nick Foles
With this in mind, you have to wonder how Chip Kelly and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland are getting it done. Stoutland was one of Kelly's first hires, having seen the job Stoutland did building the Crimson Tide's unstoppable running game. Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy got the love, but it was linemen D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack, both first round picks, that helped make it possible. There's a reason why both of them went so early in the 2013 Draft, and perhaps why Richardson is looking like such a colossal reach.
In 2014, the Eagles have lost Evan Mathis for ten quarters, Jason Kelce for two, and have been without Lane Johnson. They also lost Allen Barbre, the highly counted-on fill-in, for the year. Peters missed the final seven minutes of an amazing win after he stepped up and showed Baker who's boss.
Dennis Kelly knows the back-up game; he played it in 2012. He's playing better this year, working with Chargers castaway David Molk and Texans veterans Andrew Gardner and Wade Smith to hold down the fort while the true starters mend. If all goes well, you could see the primary five linemen restored on November 10, assuming Kelce's hernia surgery heals at the fastest possible clip.
Yet, over the last ten quarters, Peters, Herremans, Kelce, and Linemen Anonymous have not allowed a sack. Oh, there have been pressures. Gardner had all he could handle in Ryan Kerrigan's bull rush, and the walls began closing in around Foles a number of times, but the quarterback has handled the pressure well. Much of that credit has to go to his pressed-in bodyguards.
Watching Mark Sanchez and Matthew Tucker get things done behind a back-up line in preseason was August's highlight. The group effortlessly moved the ball on two drives against Steelers starters, and that's why fans are more a tad bit more comfortable now in 2014 than two years ago: the back-ups can get it done.
Is it Kelly? Is it Stoutland? Is it sports science? Whatever it is, the offensive line has never been deeper in Philadelphia, and the effort has never been more remarkable.
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