PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—The last dress rehearsal for the Eagles’ starters in their third preseason game turned into a wet, sloppy night of “rookie watch.” Philadelphia was hosting the hapless Cleveland Browns, who are trying to rebuild under former Eagles’ quarterback coach Pat Shurmur, while Eagles’ coach Andy Reid has a stacked deck and the latitude to tinker with two rookies on the offensive line and another holding a prominent role in the heart of the defense.
The final score (an Eagles’ 24-14 victory) didn’t matter as much to fans as watching numbers 50 (middle linebacker Casey Matthews), 62 (center Jason Kelce) and 63 (right guard and first-round draft pick Danny Watkins) Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field. It’s been an ongoing process this rookie trio has endured. Matthews, Kelce and Watkins have actually held up quite nicely under the scrutiny of a Super Bowl-contending team.
Of the three Thursday night, Matthews seemed to make the biggest strides. At times, the pint-sized 6-foot-1, 232-pound rookie seemed everywhere. He made three tackles in the first half and broke up one pass. If he did make mistakes, they were aggressive miscues that came from over pursuit. It might have helped playing a pretty bad Browns’ team that at one point midway through the second quarter did a better job of going backwards deep in its own territory than forward. But it was a marked improvement from Matthews’ invisible performance against Pittsburgh.
Kelce and Watkins, however, had their problems early. Watkins got bowled over by Cleveland d-tackle Phil Taylor en route to a sack, which resulted in a Michael Vick fumble and Browns’ possession at the Philadelphia 18. Later in the second quarter, Watkins was called for an illegal man downfield penalty. But overall, Watkins responded well and rebounded nicely to play a consistent game.
He helped open the door Michael Vick’s eight-yard touchdown scramble in the second quarter, and seemed to find a comfort zone after the opening quarter.
Kelce, too, had his issues. Starting over veteran Jamaal Jackson, Kelce was called for holding on the Eagles’ second possession, but the sixth-round draft choice out of Cincinnati also responded well to the earlier setback by providing a key downfield block that sprung a Ronnie Brown 13-yard touchdown run for the game’s initial score.
“We’re still trying to get cohesion because there are two new guys in there,” Kelce said. “Some of it was poor communication between the offensive line and everybody else. Some of it’s just poor communication among the offensive line in general. We’re trying to get better each and every day, and I think that’s the goal right now.”
Vick seems willing to be patient with Kelce’s maturation process.
“You can’t expect a guy to come in and be a Pro Bowl player in two games,” Vick said. “That’s just not the way this thing works. You’ve got so many responsibilities on offense as a center, so many things to learn, so many defenses and different looks that you’re going to see and that’s just part of the growing pains that we all have to go through in this league. You can’t expect somebody to come out and perform at a high level when they’ve only had two or three games under their belt. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take plenty of reps, it’s going to take mistakes. We all learn from our mistakes. I made four or five of them tonight that I’ll learn from. We just take pride in what we do at getting better. That’s why I think we’re going to be one of the best teams in the league this year.”
Reid said he felt confident about the right side of his line, which Thursday night featured Watkins and King Dunlap at right tackle. But there are some things the Eagles’ front could smooth out, like communication, for one.
“It was a combination of things there,” Reid said. “It wasn’t necessarily the terminology. There was a little confusion in a lot of areas. It was a combination of the set-up point by the quarterback, and the blocking scheme up front. That’s about as detailed as I can get for you. I thought [Dunlap] did a decent job. There was a bit of confusion between him and the right guard on one of the protections, but it looked like they were trying to communicate it, and it didn’t quite work out the way it was supposed to. That was one of many protections, and I thought they did a good job with the others.”
Whether Reid feels confident in starting two rookies next to each other on the offensive line remains a question. What is certain is the Eagles seem very confident in Matthews. Though undersized, he seems to take good angles on the ball, and has shown an ability to quickly read and react.
“It looked like [Matthews] made some plays,” Reid said. “Those inside linebackers, you have to look at the tape, so I’ll go back and do that. It looked like he did a good job of getting everyone lined up. He’s a pretty smart kid. The important thing with these young guys Kelce, Matthews and [linebacker Brian] Rolle is that we give them time to grow each week as they get better.”
The game also marked the return of defensive tackle Mike Patterson, who had a sack on the Browns’ first play of their second series.
“It felt good being out there with the fellas, feeding off their energy,” Patterson said. “The fans came out strong and it just felt so good being out there. I was a little bit nervous at first being out there. I had to get that feeling back. But, it felt pretty happy to get that hit on him [for the sack].”
Reported by Joseph Santoliquito