Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce had a world of responsibility thrust on his shoulders last season. The rookie lineman started all 16 games for the Eagles, a task made more difficult with the lockout erasing almost all of the usual offseason preparations.
Kelce described how a normal offseason of preparation was making a difference following Wednesday's practice.
"We didn't have it last year, and we had a lot of pieces moving in and four out of five guys were either in new positions or were new altogether last year on the offensive line," Kelce said. "The offensive line is just not about being good individually. It's about being good as a unit and being cohesive and on the same page. I think that towards the beginning of the season last year, we really lacked. We had good individual players, but as far as working well as a unit, I think that was something that we had to develop as the season went on. As the season went on, we got very good at it. We have been able to carry that over through the offseason and through these OTAs. We've gotten even better as a unit."
Additional time to learn the ins and outs of the pro game will be especially important as the team transitions the responsibility for protection calls from quarterback Michael Vick to Kelce.
"Just having a year under my belt, having a year with Mike in the film room, and having a year with this unit, I feel much more comfortable and I think the guys feel much more comfortable with me being the guy to make the calls."
The relationship between the second-year center and Vick will be particularly important to the team's lofty expectations this season, something that Kelce noted in his remarks.
"The trust keeps getting better and better between me and Mike," Kelce said. "He said as the season went on, it got better and better. Even this year, as we've said before, he's letting me make more of the calls and let me do more things. The respect level between me and Mike is at an all-time high, and I'm assuming it will keep getting better and better."
After falling flat with an 8-8 record last year, the Eagles are under a tremendous amount of pressure to translate a roster loaded with talent into much better results. The defense, with its high-profile acquisitions, took much of the flak last season, but a young offensive line had a hand in the results as well. A year of experience and more time to gel will be needed for the Eagles to get around in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL.