The Eagles right tackle position is no longer the Jon Runyan-manned rock that it had been for many years. Winston Justice is on the Physically Unable to Report list due to a knee injury and has no timetable for a return, and free agent acquisition Ryan Harris has a herniated disc that may require surgery. Next up on the depth chart was King Dunlap, and after Thursday night’s showing something had to give. The Browns shot through the right side like a knife through movie theater butter.
Eagles head coach Andy Reid hinted earlier in the week that he could make a change, and now he actually did. Effective immediately, left guard Todd Herremans has been moved to right tackle.
Herremans started practicing there Saturday morning, and while he’s played guard in the NFL, the former college tackle should have no problem transitioning. He’s not some blubbery wide load like a Max Jean-Gilles, he’s a tall, lean athlete with the wingspan of a tackle and the experience of a six-year NFL veteran. It’s going to take a little getting used to as he modifies his technique at a new position and a new side of the field, but he should do just fine. Not surprisingly, Herremans himself is confident he can do the job.
“They just think for now it’s the best move for the team,” Herremans said, per the Eagles. “It felt good. Obviously, it’s a little foreign. It’s going to take some time, but in a couple of weeks I’ll be ready to rock. I always felt like I could play tackle so now I just have to back it up now.”
“I was a tackle before I was ever a guard. It’s going to feel comfortable eventually,” Herremans said. “I just have to get in there and get reps.”
As bad as Dunlap has looked, a not quite up to speed Herremans will be a dramatic improvement. Herremans presence will also help rookie right guard Danny Watkins, who has struggled to learn on the fly after getting no offseason due to the lockout.
“He’s in the role that I was when I came in the league, so I kind of know what he’s going through, how everything’s feeling for him,” Herremans said regarding Watkins. “I’ll just try to help him keep growing as a player. I know what it’s like to go in that first year and be stuck inside. Tra (Thomas) helped me out when I first came in and played guard. I guess I can dig into my inner Tra and give him some help.”
With Herremans move creating a hole on the left side the immediate concern becomes who plugs it. To that end, Reid has moved free agent acquisition Evan Mathis into Herreman’s former spot.
Mathis was drafted in 2005, the same year as Herremans, and was actually taken a round earlier, with Mathis coming off the board in the third while Herremans was considered a bit of a reach at the time in the fourth.
Drafted originally out of Alabama by the Carolina Panthers, Mathis has 22 starts in 58 career games. He most recently played for the Bengals, starting seven games in 2009 and backing up full time last season. Mathis is a veteran presence that could help solidify a line in disarray, but he’s a clear downgrade from Herremans. Playing next to Jason Peters at left tackle will help, but there isn’t going to be much assistance from the other side.
That’s because the other big concern on the line is at center, where rookie Jason Kelce really struggled Thursday night. Despite that, Reid will continue to have Kelce take reps with the first team in place of former starter Jamaal Jackson. It’s likely that Jackson isn’t all the way healthy, and even if he was his size and style are not that great a fit in offensive line coach Howard Mudd’s blocking schemes. It looks like the Eagles are going to stick with Kelce and give him every opportunity to develop and show he can do the job going forward.
So while Mathis will continue to bear watching at left guard, the move of Herremans to right tackle is the correct one. With teams likely to dial up the blitz until Michael Vick shows he can adapt, having a steady presence on the quarterback’s blind side is a must.
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