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Friday August 26th, 2011

Danny Watkins is currently the Eagles' starter at right guard. (Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)

The Eagles used three of their 11 draft picks this year on offensive linemen. Two of those choices, center Jason Kelce and guard Danny Watkins, were in the starting lineup Thursday night against the Browns.

Watkins, the No. 23 overall pick out of Baylor, is penciled in as the team's starter at right guard. Philadelphia is trying to find out if Kelce, a sixth-rounder from Cincinnati, can join him up front. If Thursday was any indication, the answer might be no.

Kelce's main competition is veteran Jamaal Jackson, who missed 15 games last season with a torn triceps but started all but one game for the Eagles from 2006 to '09. Jackson is a known commodity. Kelce, not so much. The matchup with Cleveland was Kelce's first shot in the starting lineup, meaning his first real crack at matching up with the opposition's top defensive unit.

It went south in a hurry.

That's a shot from the Eagles' second play from scrimmage. Cleveland brought linebacker Scott Fujita on a blitz, but Kelce and Watkins both dove inside to pick up DT Phil Taylor. That left Fujita untouched -- Vick avoided a sack by throwing the ball away but took a huge hit on the play.

The blame for the mix-up there likely falls on Watkins, but it was an ominous start for the two rookies.

Philadelphia's next play had an even worse result, and that one did come because of a Kelce breakdown. The Eagles ran what appeared to be a read-option passing play, with Vick faking a handoff to Ronnie Brown and dropping back.

Kelce pulled right on the play but not fast enough to slow Taylor.

Taylor then spun inside on Kelce for a clear shot at Vick. And that led to this:

Michael Vick

Vick took a huge shot, his second in two plays, and fumbled the football. Cleveland recovered on the Eagles' 18.

From there, Kelce's night was up and down. He picked up a first-quarter holding penalty, then later was bull-rushed by a blitzing linebacker, which resulted in Michael Vick delivering a third-and-10 pass to Brent Celek a split second early and short of the first-down marker.

The good for Kelce? Most of it came on Ronnie Brown's 13-yard touchdown run. On that play, Kelce drove 330-pound defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin into the second level, flattening him at the 3-yard line as Brown scampered past for a touchdown. It was an impressive display of quickness, power and athleticism from the Eagles' rookie center.

Was it enough to convince Philadelphia to ride Kelce at center? It's hard to say given how the rest of his night went. Vick is the key to the Eagles' success, no matter how well Vince Young comes along as his backup, so Kelce's struggles in pass protection have to be alarming. But the preseason's meant to see what you have. Thursday's start for Kelce may have been nothing more than that, and it could give Jackson a shot to reclaim his starting job.

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