AFTER 12 SEASONS, JASON KELCE REMAINS AT THE CENTER ALL THINGS EAGLES
Updated: Jul 16
In 1991, I was playing right guard for the Indianapolis Colts.
We were playing the LA Raiders in our third game at the LA Memorial Colisseum when in the first quarter our all-world center, Ray Donaldson, broke his leg.
It seemed surreal at the time because Ray had never missed a start in his illustrious career up to the point.
I immediately went from right guard to center for every snap for the remainder of the season.
I had been a backup center for much of my career which meant I would fill in on occasion and do some spot duty. I had never started a game there in my first ten years in the NFL.
My world changed instantly.
The center in almost every offense is the communications center for every offense.
He is responsible for declaring the defensive strength, where the MIKE LBer is, and almost every protection call gets set by the center barking out orders. It is paramount to everyone on offense being in cahoots.
There was a game a few weeks later after Ray's injury where we were on the road against the Packers.
They had a blitz look and I blew the call. Flat out never saw the safety, LeRoy Butler, screaming off the edge.
The next sound was our young QB, Jeff George, screaming from being blindsided. It was one of his league-leading sacks, 56 to be exact, that I was partly responsible for.
It was devastating to the team, the confidence of our QB, and it was completely my fault. It’s a terrible burden.
hose kinds of issues that I experienced have not happened over the last decade in Philadelphia because of the intelligent play of their All-Pro center, Jason Kelce.
For most of his career he has been surrounded with a different cast almost every season except for the play of right tackle Lane Johnson. The communication, despite the injuries and the turnover, has been a non-issue.
He was drafted in 2011 in the late rounds out of Cincinnati and immediately became the starter under then head coach, Andy Reid.
Chip Kelly and his high-speed offense came and went to be followed by Doug Pedersen. They had a magical year in 2017 on the winding road that led to Super Bowl 52 victory that is still being celebrated by the Eagle faithful.
The Pedersen-Wentz regime moved on to Nick Sirianni and the uber-talented but inexperienced Jalen Hurts. Throughout all of the changes, the one constant in the entire organization has been Jason Kelce.
Not many players could withstand all of the changes to the staff and to the playbook like Kelce has. It’s his steadfast and excellent play that has kept him at the center, no pun intended, of this organization for over 150 starts.
All-Pro mentions, Pro-Bowl births, and a Super Bowl that no one will ever take away, has followed by his unique talents. The word, "undersized" will always follow any mention of Kelce. But he has used that to his advantage.
His movement in space and on the perimeter whether it be in the screen game or outside zone runs is legendary. He runs almost as well as his all pro brother, Travis, does at tight end in Kansas City. His ability to climb to the second level of any defense, regardless of traffic, to pick off linebackers is almost unmatched.
All of this has been to his advantage at playing his entire career at under 300 pounds. In fact I am pretty sure that at the end of some seasons he might be under 290 pounds.
The downside to being undersized in the pits where men can weigh as much as 70 pounds more than Kelce has taken its toll. The body has steadily been wearing down while somehow maintaining the highest standard of performance.
I asked legendary offensive line coach, Bill Callahan, one day in pregame warm-ups about the best center in football. Circa 2018 he said that Kelce was the best.
He said the two or three plays a game that he may get pushed around by a 350 pound nose tackle are blips compared to the level of play, the consistency, the plays he makes on the perimeter and down the field easily offset a couple of poor plays due to his size.
I think the unmentionable word of retirement has been floating around inside his head for quite some time.
I recall the playoff run the Birds were on the year after a Super Bowl victory. In 2018 the Birds hung on to defeat the Bears in 2018 on a double-doink field goal attempt by the Bears as time ran out to give the Eagles a wild card win in Chicago by the score of 16-15.
The next stop was New Orleans. I was in the Super Dome that day to witness the quick first quarter lead of 14-0. Could the Birds make another Super Bowl run?
After not scoring in the final 3 quarters the Saints moved on.
While "Who Dat Nation" celebrated, my eyes were on Jason Kelce.
The Eagles quickly made way for the locker rooms to endure its finality while Kelce was seen staring into the stands and perhaps into the future. I am pretty sure at that moment he was wondering was this my final game as an Eagle, as an NFL player?
Could the body withstand the weekly punishment of playing in the trenches being the most undersized warriors?
Fast forward to the inaugural season of new head coach, Nick Sirianni, and young Hurts at QB in 2021.
Kelce's leadership in the middle helped to steady a ship as the Birds offense morphed from a Big 12 spread option look into a powerful rushing attack that pummeled the Saints and others onto a winning season and a playoff berth.
After battling behemoths inside with the names of Suh and Vea in a playoff loss to the Buccaneers, there was speculation again that after a disappointing playoff defeat that it might be Kelce's final game....again.
He took weeks but agreed to terms on a one-year contract that ensured Kelce returned as starting center for his 12th season.
This pleased many fans and teammates alike but perhaps none more than Hurts and his young head coach, Sirianni.
There is a confidence that comes with knowing that you have stability at a key position for any offense. When the center is a weakness the offense, any offense, will struggle.
I believe that the Birds have made a number of key acquisitions this offseason that will allow them to once again compete for NFC East supremacy.
Everyone is looking up at the talented Dallas Cowboys who went 6-0 in the division a year ago and outscored the rest of the division by a wide margin.
When the Birds go on the road this year, they may pack the best offensive line in all of football thanks to the return of Kelce and the development of Jordan Mailata and Landon Dickerson.
Games will always be won in the trenches and the Birds are strong on both sides of the ball.
I am sure that part of the reason for Kelce's return is the optimism that everyone feels inside the locker room and what this season could unfold.
I am sure that Kelce would love nothing more than to dust off his famed Mummer's Jacket that he wore in the first Eagles Super Bowl Parade.
I believe Kelce believes that this team has what it takes to make one more Super Bowl run...with Kelce once again, at the center of attention. *