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July 13, 2019

Eagles training camp preview: Interior offensive line

Eagles NFL
071219BrandonBrooks Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Will Brandon Brooks return in time for Week 1 of the regular season?

Leading up to training camp, we'll take a look at every player on the Philadelphia Eagles' roster, and how they fit with the team. In case you've missed any of them, you can catch up here.


TRAINING CAMP PREVIEWS:

 QB | RB | WR | TE | OT


Today we'll look at the guards and centers.

 LGIsaac Seumalo Sua Opeta (R) 
 
 CJason Kelce  Stefen WisniewskiAnthony Fabiano  Keegan Render (R)
 RGBrandon Brooks Halapoulivaati Vaitai Matt PryorNate Herbig (R)


Jason Kelce

Kelce was named NFL first-team All-Pro in each of the last two seasons, and there's a good argument that he's the best center in the game. A report emerged during the playoffs that Kelce was mulling retirement, a notion that Kelce himself acknowledged. In March, he signed a lucrative contract extension, likely quelling concerns that retirement is happening anytime soon.

Kelce is now 31, but he can still can do things athletically that no other center can do.

Isaac Seumalo

During the Eagles' Super Bowl season in 2017, Seumalo began the year as the starting left guard, but he was benched in favor of Stefen Wisniewski after Week 2. He was one of the rare disappointments on the team.

In 2018, Seumalo began the season as a backup, but he eventually took over for Wisniewski in the starting lineup, with the explanation from the team being practice performance, as well as his ideal length and athleticism. While I didn't think that was a major upgrade, I do think it ultimately turned out to be the right move, as Seumalo played well enough, and looks like a competent, young starter going forward, with room for improvement.

Brandon Brooks

Brooks is coming off a pair of Pro Bowl nods in 2017 and 2018, but he tore his Achilles against the Saints in the playoffs. Realistically, that's a nine-month injury, or more, which would put Brooks' potential return up against the start of the 2019 season.

Beyond the question of whether or not Brooks can even make it back in time for the regular season, there are certainly concerns about his ability to maintain his high level of play when he is able to return. The Eagles are taking a long look at Halapoulivaati Vaitai at RG in Brooks' absence, and then of course, Wisniewski could always fill in there as well.

With elite players on each side of the RG spot at center (Kelce) and RT (Lane Johnson), the Eagles are equipped to weather Brooks' loss for a while, and should be in no rush to have him suit up prematurely. 

Halapoulivaati Vaitai

With an overwhelming amount of depth at OT, and not as much on the interior, the Eagles began cross-training Vaitai at guard. In Brooks' absence, Vaitai got first-team reps at RG all throughout spring practices, and is the favorite to start there Week 1, assuming Brooks isn't ready to start to regular season.

Whenever Brooks is healthy, Vaitai's role will be interesting to monitor. Is he still also the first guy off the bench at OT if Jason Peters or Lane Johnson were to go down. At LT, the guess here is no, as Andre Dillard would likely play. At RT, the guess here is yes, as the team would probably feel more comfortable with Vaitai's experience over Jordan Mailata.

Stefen Wisniewski

In March, the Eagles declined to pick up a $3,708,334 option on Wisniewski, making him a free agent. In May, the team signed him to a one-year deal worth about $1.8 million, with only $250,000 in guaranteed money. It was thought by many (self included) at the time of Wisniewski's signing that he would be the obvious fill-in candidate for Brooks until he returned from injury, but as noted above, Vaitai is getting first crack at that opportunity. 

Because it would only be a $250,000 cap hit if the Eagles cut him, and because he wasn't the first option to replace Brooks, Wisniewski's roster spot isn't a lock. In his favor is that there aren't any other reliable options behind Kelce at center, except for maybe Seumalo. Of course, if Seumalo filled in at center, the player who would make the most sense to replace the vacant spot at LG would be, you know, Wisniewski.


MORE: Doug Pederson has a score to settle with former Eagles OC Frank Reich | Eagles' DeSean Jackson works out with Lakers' Kyle Kuzma


Matt Pryor

The other player who should be worried that he did not get the first opportunity to start at RG in Brooks' absence is Pryor. It’s a completely new position for Vaitai, while Pryor has been training at guard with the team for a year, and should theoretically have the upper hand. 

Pryor looked really good in training camp as a rookie sixth-round pick last year, and then not so good in the preseason games. This season, it won't matter if Pryor looks good in practice if he can't carry that over into the games for the second straight year. He needs to earn his roster spot in 2019 during the preseason games.

Sua Opeta

Pencil in Opeta for the practice squad. He was consistently getting second-team reps at LG during spring practices, and the Eagles gave him significant guaranteed money to sign as a priority undrafted free agent.

Opeta is an interesting project. In college he moved from the defensive line to the offensive line, and at the NFL Combine, he showed impressive strength, when he put up 39 bench press reps at 225 pounds, which was the best bench performance in five years.

He is the type of prospect that Jeff Stoutland would love to try to mold into a contributing player, but it will probably take some time.

Anthony Fabiano

Fabiano is a Harvard guy who entered the league in 2016, and is on his ninth stop in the NFL. He has been with the Ravens, Browns, Washingtons, Giants, Patriots, Colts, Browns again, and finally, he landed on the Eagles' practice squad in Week 12 last year. He has appeared in nine games, and started two.

Nate Herbig

Herbig is a 6'3, 335 pound Hawaiian who dealt with injuries in 2018, and curiously skipped Stanford's bowl game to enter the draft early. He was a decent guard in 2017, when he played a full season. That's the player the Eagles hope they're getting. 

Here's a highlight reel from that season. Trust me, this is fun to watch:


Of course, if he did that consistently, he'd be a first-rounder, like 
Quenton Nelson was a year ago. Unfortunately, as my friend Tommy Lawlor put it in a conversation, he also a whiff machine on blocks, making him something of a Rob Deer, in that you're either getting a home run, or a whiff.

At a minimum, Herbig should be a fun player to watch in training camp.

Keegan Render

Render played all three interior OL spots at Iowa, where offensive linemen are typically coached up pretty well. Still, he's probably little more than a camp body.


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