EAGLES NOTEBOOK: Offensive Line Speculation

Who plays and who plays where has become a weekly mystery, plus DeVonta Smith's weight training, the challenge of Christian McCaffery and more
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It’s looking more and more like Lane Johnson will miss his second straight start while he irons out the personal matter that came up just a couple of hours prior to last week’s kickoff.

The right tackle has yet to practice this week and hasn’t been seen on the ground of the team’s training facility all week.

Also, it probably wasn’t a good sign for Lane Johnson’s availability when they brought right guard Nate Herbig outside to the media tent for a news conference. That could also be a sign that Jordan Mailata and his ailing sprained knee may not be ready to answer Sunday’s call against the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m./FOX), either.

It’s a quandary that Carolina coach Matt Rhule was asked about on Thursday and how he will prepare for a line that he doesn’t know who will play where.

“We’re just trying to loo offensive line-wise the scheme, the things that they do, then try to work backward from there as opposed to maybe with if you knew what the lineup would be, it would be let’s attack this, let's attack that, but right now we’re just trying to attack scheme the best we can,” he said.

Mailata has been limited in practice all week, with a brace protecting his injured right knee.

If both players sit, the Eagles will start the same lineup they did against the Kansas City Chiefs last week, which may not be a bad thing. 

It was a unit that had Jack Driscoll at right tackle, Herbig next to him, center Jason Kelce, left guard Landon Dickerson, and Andre Mailata at left tackle and the OL did not play badly. It would also lend cohesion.

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Here’s the kicker, though.

If Mailata can play and Johnson can’t, perhaps Mailata goes to right tackle with Dillard staying put on the left side.

In that event, then it would probably be Driscoll at right guard since that was where he was set to play until the last minute when Johnson tapped out.

“We’re all close in the O-line room,” said Dickerson. “Yes, there’s an adjustment when you play with new guys, but that’s the thing. I think we’re doing a great job communicating in practice and walkthroughs, getting everything down … We’re all really close, so it’s not like you’re trying to learn somebody new who just came in.”

STRENGTH TRAINING

One of the big concerns about DeVonta Smith coming out of Alabama was his weight of 166 pounds. So far, it hasn’t been an issue.

"I think it's really just a mindset,” he said. “Having the mindset of going out there and not getting pushed around. I think that's the main thing it comes down to. I mean you can have a guy that's real strong and all but he don't have the mindset so it's not really gonna work out.

“So I think it's more of a mindset thing than just getting in there and throwing weight around but I mean I go in the weight room and we work out and do the things I'm supposed to. I do the little things I'm supposed to work on."

Smith will attempt to have a second straight 100-yard receiving game after putting up 122 against the Chiefs.

"I mean that's just a stepping stone,” he said when asked about his performance last week. “Just continue to come in, day in and day out. Doing what I'm supposed to do. Working hard."

MCCAFFERY CHALLENGE

Running back Christian McCaffery seems to be trending in the right direction to play on Sunday. One of the league’s top RBs, McCaffrey missed last week’s loss against the Dallas Cowboys with a hamstring issue.

Head coach Matt Rhule said he will be evaluated each day to see if he will be able to play and would monitor him during the game if he does.

“I’m hopeful that he can play,” the Panthers coach said on Thursday. “Obviously when he plays we’re a better team, but I’m also going to be really smart with him and not put him in a bad position. Hopefully, he can go on Sunday.”

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Eagles linebacker Alex Singleton made an interesting comparison with McCaffrey and what he is able to do both running and receiving when healthy. In 2019, he ran for more than 1,000 yards and had more than 1,000 yards receiving but injuries limited him to three games last year.

“Watching him on film is kind of like (Saints RB) Alvin Kamara,” said Singleton. “They kind of run the same offense and kind of use them the same way. That’s kind of the way I’m looking at it. Obviously two different guys, but just kind of that same, get out of the backfield but also runs very well.”

INJURY UPDATE

Mailata was the only player listed as limited in Thursday’s practice.

In addition to Johnson, the only other player not to practice was Darius Slay. He was listed out with a personal matter. 

Later in the day, that personal matter revealed itself when it was announced that the cornerback and his wife welcomed a son, Desmond Demetrius, into the world.

Three others who were limited on Wednesday were full participants: Jason Kelce (foot/rest), Avonte Maddox (neck) and Quez Watkins (knee).

AUTISM FOUNDATION SUCCESS

The Eagles Autism Foundation announced that its 2021 Eagles Autism Challenge raised more than $2.7 million for autism research and care, with donors from 15 countries, 1,850 participants, and 12,189 donations.

The foundation has raised more than $12M since 2018.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I know in this building we all believe in each other. We’re excited. These games…Sundays are so far. I’m a guy that would play a game every single day. I’m one to say, look, let’s play again. Obviously, we have to wait a week and take what happened to us last week, talk about it, and we don’t just do that with you guys we do it with ourselves, too.” – LB Alex Singleton on team’s three-game losing streak.

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Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.