PHILADELPHIA -- There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the state of the Philadelphia Eagles' guard situation. The release of Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis removed two players who had started a total of 180 games for the Eagles -- 124 of them by Herremans.
By not signing a single free agent to help the line, and by not drafting a single offensive lineman, Chip Kelly placed a lot of trust in (and pressure on) some fairly inexperienced players. Allen Barbre, who has eight career starts, figures to be the left guard, and Matt Tobin (seven starts) and Andrew Gardner (eight starts) get the first cracks at replacing Herremans on the right side.
But there are reasons to be optimistic, as well. First of all, consider the players who are being replaced. Herremans was the Eagles’ fifth-round draft pick in 2005. He played his college ball at Saginaw Valley State, and his selection was probably the first time the average Eagles fan even heard of Saginaw Valley State.
Mathis was a third-round pick by the Carolina Panthers in that same 2005 draft. He started 15 games for the Panthers in his three seasons before being released. Mathis started seven games in Cincinnati and zero games for the Miami Dolphins before he signed with the Eagles in 2011.
Those two developed into reliable or better offensive linemen in Philadelphia. So it’s possible the same could happen for Barbre, Tobin and Gardner. There is also the chance that one of the Eagles’ undrafted rookies plays his way into the picture during training camp.
Barbre was a fourth-round pick by Green Bay in 2007. Gardner was a sixth-round choice by Miami in 2009. Tobin was undrafted out of Iowa in 2013, and signed with the Eagles as a free agent.
The second positive sign is that all three of those players have spent two full years in Kelly’s offense, working with offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. Going into their third season, that continuity is bound to help them.
Finally, there is the chance to practice with the first-team offensive line throughout the spring and summer. Barbre is the only one of the three who has had that luxury in the past. That was last season, when Barbre stepped into the opening at right tackle while Lane Johnson served a four-game PED suspension. Barbre worked with the first team all through the preseason, only to be knocked out of the first game of the season with a severe high ankle sprain.
Barbre made his biggest impression on Kelly in 2013. During the Eagles’ game in Green Bay, left tackle Jason Peters was injured. Barbre replaced him, playing extremely well for the rest of the Eagles’ 27-13 victory. Quarterback Nick Foles was not sacked in that game.
Tobin and Gardner started a total of 15 games last season. But they never had the chance to develop timing and familiarity with the rest of the line over a full preseason. And they played, at times, with inexperienced center David Molk while Jason Kelce recovered from surgery to repair a sports hernia.
None of this is definitive proof that Barbre, Tobin and Gardner are going to the Pro Bowl. But it is worth noting that, though there are reasons to be concerned about each, there are also reasons to give them the benefit of the doubt. This time next year, we’ll know a whole lot more about them.