The Eagles offensive line had a rough go early on last season, dealing with multiple injuries, but by season’s end, the team had established one of the better offensive lines in the league when at full strength.
Going into this season, they are already dealing with adversity. ESPN reported in late June that 2013 first round pick offensive tackle Lane Johnson had been suspended four games for performance enhancing substances.
Barring anything catastrophic happening to the offensive line, expect the competition to kept in-house. Looking at the pool of free agents at guard or tackle, the remaining players may be “too old” or just may not be fit to play at the pace the Eagles look to play within Head Coach Chip Kelly’s offense. There are indications that Allen Barbre will get the start at right tackle.
According to CBS Philadelphia, running back LeSean McCoy has already showed his confidence in Barbre for the time being, “he’s a good backup man and he’ll play. I think he’ll make some plays where—obviously you’ll want Lane in there, but Barbre I think does a good enough job where you don’t see a big difference.”
Early in his career, Barbre started at left guard for two seasons for the Green Bay Packers before being moved to right tackle. The transition did not work and he was soon released. During the 2013 season, Barbre did fill the void in week 10 for Jason Peters at left tackle against the Packers. Considered one of their better backups along the line, the team signed him to a three year extension on June 3rd.
Others vying for the opportunity are Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner.
Gardner, a recent signing for the Eagles, is a sixth round pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2009. He spent his first several seasons jumping around (Baltimore, Minnesota and Cincinnati), looking for a roster spot until 2011 where he joined the Houston Texans. From 2011 to 2013, Gardner made seven appearances. The Eagles announced his signing to the 90 man roster via Twitter in late March. He was considered the Texans top backup, his experience at right tackle could help him get long look at replacing Johnson.
Tobin, an undrafted rookie out of the University of Iowa from a season ago, may be the biggest challenge to Barbre.
When picked up after the 2013 draft, general manager Howie Roseman spoke with Eagles.com and held the kid to high regards. “You saw that he was a big guy, athletic guy, tested well, went to Iowa. I think you waited for the preseason, you waited to see how he played against the Patriots in those preseason games. He’s also a guy who’s versatile. He can play guard. He’s done that in college and we think he can do that here. He’s probably a four-position backup if you put him on gameday active and I’m not sure at the end of the day that he couldn’t play center.”
He is a part of the Eagles’ short term and long term plans. Depending on how he performs in training camp, he could push for a backup spot given his versatility and start at right tackle for the duration of the suspension.
For now expect Barbre to be the lead dog for the time being at right tackle. However, Tobin’s versatility and the plans in place for the coaching staff for the second might give him the edge. If it comes down to Barbre and Tobin, I’ll go out on a limb and expect Tobin to progress through training camp, impress the coaching staff and win the battle.