Philadelphia’s offensive line, a group widely regarded as the finest in the NFL, defies stereotypes of the position, which dictate players should be media-averse and embrace a silent workman mentality. The Eagles’ starting line is a delightfully strange and unique set of characters whose dominance on the field is accentuated by their marketability off the field.
The left guard? A kid nicknamed “Big Country” who replaced the damaged bumper on the front of his truck with a wooden railroad tie and a makeshift license plate that read “BAMA” in red lettering, for his alma mater. Landon Dickerson also has a black belt in karate.
“The offensive line isn’t a popular commodity,” Johnson said Tuesday. “There’s two different games: You’re watching seven-on-seven, and then there’s a different game inside where the guys are blocking. So, f—, the media and just fans in general don’t really understand what all goes on in there, so you can get lost in the shuffle.”
“We have a good blend of age and youth,” Kelce said. “We have a good blend of power and athleticism. Any scheme you want to draw up, we have the ability to, I think, execute and the strength to execute. We got good people combined with a good coach and good players, and that’s usually a good recipe.”
Thanks to their line — and, of course, quarterback Jalen Hurts — the Eagles ranked among the league’s top five in rushing offense (averaging 147.6 yards per game), third-down conversion rate (46.0 percent) and red-zone scoring rate (67.8 percent) during the regular season. According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles’ front was responsible for only 11 of the 38 sacks of Hurts. The line also helped Philly produce 363 rushing yards in a Week 12 win over the Packers and 253 in a win over the Giants two weeks later.
Having elite talent helps. So, too, does having a respected coach. Jeff Stoutland, Philadelphia’s offensive line coach and run game coordinator, has 39 years of experience and is the most tenured coach on staff; he’s been around since Chip Kelly was in charge. A former linebacker and linebackers coach, Stoutland converted to offensive line when he was an assistant at Syracuse because then-coach Dick MacPherson need “a favor.”
“I said, ‘Sure, Coach, whatever you need,’” Stoutland recalled. “He said, ‘I need you to coach the offensive line.’ My heart dropped. I was a linebacker. I coached linebackers. I loved setting up the defense, the blitzes and all that.”
Stoutland says the offensive line is his “passion” and “where I needed to be,” and a quick scan of his record would validate such a claim. He coached the best offensive line in college football from 2011-2012 at Alabama, then created a record-setting group in Philadelphia starting in 2013, helped the Eagles to a win in Super Bowl LII five years ago.
“All five of the guys starting know how important it is that the guy next to them does their job so that the whole unit can be successful,” Kelce said. “It’s very unique in that regard. A run play, you need all five guys really doing their jobs if you want it to be successful. And protection, it only takes one guy getting beat for a pressure to happen, or a sack. So you realize how important each and every one of you are to the success of the group and team.”
Kelce’s success is evident. A surefire Hall of Famer, he’s only the third center since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to earn five first-team all-pro honors. Stoutland said Kelce is the smartest player he’s ever coached.
“And I’ve coached some really, really smart players at that position throughout my career,” he added. “He conceptualizes everything so well. He’s got this numbers thing going on in his head. Like, ‘You don’t have enough people over here to cover the receiver, so therefore, they’re probably doing something over here.’ That kind of stuff. He has tremendous instincts.”
Johnson, a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time all-pro selection, is among the league’s finest tackles. He missed the last two games of the regular season because of a groin injury he’s managing in the postseason, knowing he’ll need surgery shortly after. According to PFF, he hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 11 of 2020, nor has he allowed a quarterback hit since Week 7 of 2021.
This content was originally published here.