Greenwich Time

The Eagles’ singing, swearing, steady O-line may dominate the Super Bowl

- By Nicki Jhabvala

PHOENIX — One of the biggest stars for the Philadelph­ia Eagles is a bearded man who dressed in Mummers regalia and stood on the steps of the Philadelph­ia Museum of Art to issue an expletive-laced speech about his “underdog” teammates after their Super Bowl LII victory and tell the team’s detractors to go away.

He made a Christmas album with teammates, despite an admitted lack of vocal range or pitch, and even sang the national anthem before a 76ers game in March. He recently launched a podcast with his brother, who happens to be pretty successful at football, too, and last year, after hosting a three-hour show on a local radio station, he announced his return to the Eagles with a video of him drinking beer from a keg he’d received from his head coach.

“Well,” Jason Kelce said before taking a gulp and letting the foam drip down his beard. “. . . I’m retiring from hosting WIP, but I’m definitely not retiring from playing for the Philadelph­ia Eagles.”

If the eccentrici­ty stopped with their starting center, the Eagles would still be distinguis­hed. But it doesn’t. Not even close.

Philadelph­ia’s offensive line, a group widely regarded as the finest in the NFL, defies stereotype­s of the position, which dictate players should be media-averse and embrace a silent

Sunday, 6:30 p.m. (FOX) workman mentality. The Eagles’s starting line is a delightful­ly strange and unique set of characters whose dominance on the field is accentuate­d by their marketabil­ity off the field.

The left tackle? An Australian rugby player who hadn’t played a single snap of NFL football before Philadelph­ia drafted him in 2018. Jordan Mailata is 365 pounds and has the singing voice of an angel. No, really; go watch his performanc­e on Fox’s “The Masked Singer.”

The left guard? A kid nicknamed “Big Country” who replaced the damaged bumper on the front of his truck with a wooden railroad tie and a makeshift license plate that read “BAMA” in red lettering, for his alma mater. Landon Dickerson also has a black belt in karate.

The right guard? A 30year-old from Hawaii whose first job was delivering newspapers. Isaac Seumalo was also part of the Eagles’s Super Bowl LII team.

And the right tackle? He converted a horse barn into a souped-up home gym he calls the “Bro Barn.” Lane Johnson was also part of the 2019 Eagles O-line that posed on the cover of ESPN’s Body Issue that year. Like his teammate, Kelce, he has no problem telling it straight.

“The offensive line isn’t a popular commodity,”

Johnson said Tuesday. “There’s two different games: You’re watching seven-on-seven, and then there’s a different game inside where the guys are blocking. So, (expletive), the media and just fans in general don’t really understand what all goes on in there, so you can get lost in the shuffle.”

But the Eagles’s O-line, and its individual parts, have rarely been lost in the shuffle.

Philadelph­ia’s adherence to a draft-and-develop approach has created one of the more effective lines in history. The team drafted all five starters, as well as three backups. The starters boast three Super Bowl rings, 11 Pro Bowl selections and eight all-pro honors.

“We have a good blend of age and youth,” Kelce said. “We have a good blend of power and athleticis­m. Any scheme you want to draw up, we have the ability to, I think, execute

and the strength to execute. We got good people combined with a good coach and good players, and that’s usually a good recipe.”

Thanks to their line — and, of course, quarterbac­k Jalen Hurts — the Eagles ranked among the league’s top five in rushing offense (averaging 147.6 yards per game), third-down conversion rate (46.0 percent) and red-zone scoring rate (67.8 percent) during the regular season. According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles’s front was responsibl­e for only 11 of the 38 sacks of Hurts. The line also helped Philly produce 363 rushing yards in a Week 12 win over the Packers and 253 in a win over the Giants two weeks later.

Having elite talent helps. So, too, does having a respected coach. Jeff Stoutland, Philadelph­ia’s offensive line coach and run game coordinato­r, has 39 years of experience and is the most tenured coach on staff; he’s been around since Chip Kelly was in charge. A former linebacker and linebacker­s coach, Stoutland converted to offensive line when he was an assistant at Syracuse because thencoach Dick MacPherson needed “a favor.”

“I said, ‘Sure, Coach, whatever you need,’” Stoutland recalled. “He said, ‘I need you to coach the offensive line.’ My heart dropped. I was a linebacker. I coached linebacker­s. I loved setting up the defense, the blitzes and all that.”

Stoutland says the offensive line is his “passion” and “where I needed to be,” and a quick scan of his record would validate such a claim. He coached the best offensive line in college football from 2011-2012 at Alabama, then created a record-setting group in Philadelph­ia starting in 2013, helped the Eagles to a win in Super Bowl LII five years ago.

His love for the line stems, in part, from the challenge of getting five players to operate as one cohesive unit. He calls it the “five-wheel drive.” All the parts have to work in sync, and if one is off, it all falls apart.

“All five of the guys starting know how important it is that the guy next to them does their job so that the whole unit can be successful,” Kelce said. “It’s very unique in that regard. A run play, you need all five guys really doing their jobs if you want it to be successful. And protection, it only takes one guy getting beat for a pressure to happen, or a sack. So you realize how important each and every one of you are to the success of the group and team.”

Kelce’s success is evident. A surefire Hall of Famer, he’s only the third center since the 1970 AFLNFL merger to earn five first-team all-pro honors. Stoutland said Kelce is the smartest player he’s ever coached.

“And I’ve coached some really, really smart players at that position throughout my career,” he added. “He conceptual­izes everything so well. He’s got this numbers thing going on in his head. Like, ‘You don’t have enough people over here to cover the receiver, so therefore, they’re probably doing something over here.’ That kind of stuff. He has tremendous instincts.”

Johnson, a four-time Pro Bowler and threetime all-pro selection, is among the league’s finest tackles. He missed the last two games of the regular season because of a groin injury he’s managing in the postseason, knowing he’ll need surgery shortly after. According to PFF, he hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 11 of 2020, nor has he allowed a quarterbac­k hit since Week 7 of 2021.

Stoutland describes him with the utmost compliment.

“He’s unusual,” the coach said. “I always say this to (Eagles owner Jeff ) Lurie when I run across a player like that . . . . I like unusual.”

Stoutland added: “I’m not taking credit for any of this, believe me, but I don’t want robots walking around our building. I want people to be themselves. I want to have fun coaching, and I want them to have fun playing.”

 ?? Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images ?? The Philadelph­ia Eagles’ Isaac Seumalo (56), Jason Kelce (62) and Landon Dickerson (69) huddle with teammates against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter in the NFC Championsh­ip Game at Lincoln Financial Field on Jan. 29 in Philadelph­ia.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images The Philadelph­ia Eagles’ Isaac Seumalo (56), Jason Kelce (62) and Landon Dickerson (69) huddle with teammates against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter in the NFC Championsh­ip Game at Lincoln Financial Field on Jan. 29 in Philadelph­ia.

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