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Ruling the Trenches


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Ruling the Trenches

Posted: June 20th, 2023 | Author: Tommy Lawlor 

Buddy Ryan built a phenomenal defensive line when he took over the Eagles in 1986. They continued to have success on the DL after Ryan’s departure. The Eagles tried to build the OL to match that and just couldn’t get it right. Andy Reid changed that when he arrived in 1999. He made the line of scrimmage a priority and the Eagles were able to become good on both sides of the ball.

Big Red has been gone for a decade, but his philosophy never left. The Eagles continue to focus on the trenches and that has paid off.


So how do you end up with the best OL and DL in the league?

There are multiple reasons. First, you spend the resources needed to find key players. Lane Johnson was a Top 5 pick. Landon Dickerson was an early second round pick. Cam Jurgens was a second round pick. Tyler Steen was a third round pick. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jordan Davis, Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith were all first round picks. You have to draft linemen early and often to build deep, talented lines.

Money. Whether paying your guys or free agents, good linemen don’t come cheap. The Eagles have spent a ton of money on the lines. Jordan Mailata, Jason Kelce and Johnson all make big money. Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Cox and Graham all make good money.

Good scouting is critical. The Eagles spent resources on the OL in the early 90’s.


Pick #8 – OT Antone Davis
Pick #75 – OG Rob Selby


Pick #19 – OG Leonard Holmes


Pick #14 – OT Bernard Williams
Pick #77 – OG Joe Panos

Those players all had talent, but they weren’t ideal picks. Williams is the most frustrating. He was a gifted LT, but was also a pothead. He was suspended for the 1995 season for marijuana and never came back to the NFL. He chose weed over football. That’s the kind of detail you need your scouts to find out before the draft. Watching game tape is only part of the equation. You’ve got to figure out who has the right habits and is willing to do what it takes to succeed.

Coaching is huge as well. Those guys listed above all had legit talent. The Eagles didn’t develop them very well. Juan Castillo did some good things with the Eagles OL in the Reid era, but Jeff Stoutland has proven to be a great OL coach. He’s been able to coach high picks, but also to have success with mid-rounders and even late round players. Stoutland does an excellent job of developing players.

The DL is getting good coaching as well. Tracy Rocker works with the big guys and Jeremiah Washburn works with the edge rushers. Rocker has gotten good play from Cox. Javon Hargrave had a career year for him last season. Milton Williams has developed well. The big test will be to see how Davis and Carter do this year. Rocker certainly has good talent to work with. Washburn got career years from Sweat and Reddick last season. He got a career-high in sacks from BG and now gets to work with future HOF’er Nolan Smith (too soon?).

I think another key to the success is being patient with players. The Eagles gave Mailata time to develop. He was drafted in 2018 and didn’t play in his first game until 2020. That’s real patience. The Eagles gave Sweat time as well. He barely played as a rookie and then became a situational rusher the next year. He started three games in 2020 before becoming a full-time starter in 2021. Think about Marlon Tuipulotu. He really struggled as a rookie in the preseason. The Eagles kept him on the roster and he became a role player last year before getting hurt. Not all coaching staffs and front offices are that patient.

The Eagles talk about how much they believe in focusing on the line of scrimmage. They back up those words with actions and the results have been great. They’ve got plenty of young talent on both lines so the line play could continue to be a strength for a while.


If you want more OL talk…


Did Jimmy blame most of the sacks on Jalen Hurts, saying he’s not a very good QB and is holding the team back? You’ll have to read the article to find out.


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