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Jack McCaffery is the lead sports columnist for the Daily Times and He has spent several decades covering everything from the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers, to college hoops, to high school sports in Delco.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Pederson overwhelmed by offensive line upheaval

By Jack McCaffery
PHILADELPHIA >> Doug Pederson was at his office desk early Sunday morning, still preparing to coach the Eagles against the Washington Redskins. When the phone rang, his job would grow more complicated.
For the second time in three games, veteran guard Brandon Brooks had reported a game-day stomach illness that would prevent him from playing. The result, which was complicated by a variety of in-game offensive-line injuries, was that the Birds would lose, 27-22. The more lasting challenge would be for the Eagles to find out why Brooks, who also missed the Nov. 28 game against visiting Green Bay, has twice had such trouble just hours before kickoff.
“That's something we're going to continue to explore today with him and just see,” Pederson said Monday at the NovaCare Complex. “It's obviously unfortunate, but we need to get to the bottom of it and just find out why.”
Brooks, 27, has reported to have battled ulcers. Oddly, however, that distress has not caused him to miss any practices. He even was at the Linc Sunday, prepared to participate in pregame drills, before reporting that he would be unable to play.
“That's something that our medical team will dive into,” Pederson said, “and try to find out.”
Brooks, who was signed in the offseason as a free agent, missed a Houston Texans game against the Buffalo Bills last season.
Clearly, Pederson didn't expect Brooks' trauma to be lasting, announcing Monday that the guard would be ready to practice Wednesday. And when asked if Brooks were still a starter, Pederson indicated, “Yes.”
Pederson did admit that the uncertainty surrounding Brooks complicates his preparation. Against the Redskins, rookie Isaac Seumalo would start in Brooks' place.
“Well, it can be a challenge,” Pederson said. “I think for us, as coaches, and as a staff, by giving Isaac these reps during the week, it definitely prepares us for anything. It's obviously no different than if Brandon were to go down with an injury, say, in the first quarter and Seumalo has to go play.
“It is a difficult situation, but at the same time, we feel comfortable with Isaac and giving him the time during the week to be ready and handle the situation.”
As it would happen Sunday, Brooks' late sick-call was the first in a series of offensive-line complications. During the game, right tackle Allen Barbre sustained a Grade 1 right hamstring-strain, according to Pederson. Matt Tobin would replace Barbre and suffer a Grade 2 left-knee sprain that likely will cost him the rest of the season.
Also, long-snapper Jon Dorenbos broke his wrist, requiring surgery, and will be placed on the injured-reserve list. Tight end Brent Celek, also the backup snapper, reported a stinger during the game.
It was the nature of the Brooks absence, though, that was the most mysterious.
“It's happened on the actual day of the game,” Pederson said. “There is a little bit of history there, but it's something our medical team will do more to investigate as we go.”
Pederson said he spoke with Brooks Monday morning.
“He definitely wants to explore the reasons why this is happening,” the coach said. “If we can help him, I want to help him and make sure it doesn't happen again.
“Again, medically, I don't know what it is. I'm not Brandon, so I can't speak for him. But it’s something we’ve got to get to the bottom of and help him as an athlete.”
Tobin was injured on the Birds' next-to-last offensive play, then was beaten by Ryan Kerrigan, who sacked Carson Wentz, forcing a fumble with 21 seconds left. By then, Pederson's only remaining available offensive lineman was backup center Josh Andrews. Guard Dillon Gordon was a pregame scratch.
By Monday, Pederson was still unsure of how his line will look Sunday when the Birds visit the Baltimore Ravens.
“Well, we're looking at all that,” he said. “We still have Dillon Gordon. But there's going to be probably opportunity to work out some guys and bring some guys in and try to fill those spots.
“The next couple days will be big days for us.”