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Evan Mathis could start at center vs. Dallas

geoff mosher csnphilly

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Posted 28 November 2012 - 11:14 PM

Mosher

Evan Mathis could start at center vs. Dallas

November 28, 2012, 6:09 pm

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Evan Mathis has spent plenty of time in practice this season snapping footballs. He’s spent plenty of time in quarterback-center meetings. He’s done as much as he possibly could do to prepare for the scenario that awaits.

Mathis could be making his first NFL start at center Sunday night against Dallas in Arlington, Texas, on national television if starter Dallas Reynolds isn’t recovered from the ankle injury that kept the first-year Eagles center sidelined for Wednesday’s practice.

“It just takes getting out there and getting reps at it,” Mathis said after practice. “I got more and more comfortable as the day went along [Wednesday]. I’ve been snapping for most of this year [in practice] so it’s not anything that has to come back.”

Reynolds’ status for Sunday’s game is unclear. He hasn’t been ruled out. Mathis took the first-team reps at practice, with backup center Matt Tennant also mixing in. Mathis’ void at left guard was filled by Danny Watkins.

Also out of practice were defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (tailbone) and running back Chris Polk (toe). Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy continue to be sidelined by concussions.

Left tackle King Dunlap (knee) was limited at practice, and wide receiver Jason Avant, who missed the Carolina loss, returned to practice and participated in full.

The team isn’t certain that Reynolds won’t make it back by Sunday night. The coaches should have a better feel for the situation by Thursday.

Injuries have decimated the offensive line all season. If Mathis plays center and Watkins plays left guard, the Eagles will be jogging out their sixth different line combination in 12 games.

It would be fitting, though. Mathis is the only offensive lineman to start each of the first 11 games at the same position, which he cited as one reason for the team’s decision to move him over instead of going with Tennant.

But the move is curious because it also involves Watkins' rejoining the line as a starter for the first time since an Oct. 14 loss to the Lions. He missed the next three games with an ankle injury and then served as the backup to street-free-agent signing Jake Scott for the past two games. Head coach Andy Reid has tap-danced around questions about whether or not Watkins’ recent role as a backup was performance-related or injury-related. None of the coaches were available after practice.

Tennant signed on Oct. 23 and has worked at center and guard, but Mathis said his experience on the offensive line and with coach Howard Mudd’s schemes make him the logical candidate to replace Reynolds over Tennant.

“I’ve been here longer than him, probably that’s why,” Mathis said. “You’re in the system longer and I’m next to Dallas while all those things are happening.”

Mathis has never played center in the NFL but played there as a redshirt freshman at Alabama before moving outside to tackle. He came from nowhere last season to emerge not only as the Eagles’ starting left guard but also one of the league’s best interior offensive linemen worthy of a five-year, $25-million contract extension after last season.

Mathis started to take snaps at practice after center Jason Kelce went down in September, an injury that forced Reynolds into the lineup. Reynolds had spent most of his first three NFL years on the Eagles’ practice squad and had never played an NFL down until he replaced Kelce against the Ravens in Week 2. He has also attended the weekly meetings for centers and quarterbacks.

“I’ve been doing that all year,” he said. “I’ve been going to all those meetings.”

Still, even Mathis admitted that moving to center, a position that’s akin to the traffic command center, isn’t as easy as a finger snap. Teams have capitalized on Reynolds’ inexperience, throwing delayed blitzes, stunts and some other unique pressure schemes at the Eagles’ struggling offense for much of the season.

Mathis will also be blocking and making calls for rookie quarterback Nick Foles, who is slated to make his third professional start after losing and failing to throw a touchdown pass in his first two.

“You’re playing center, you’re not playing guard, you have to be more cognizant of things that happen to a center,” Mathis said. “Everything is easier said than done. It takes practice. It takes getting used to it, having the right attitude about it, knowing the playbook, communication.”

E-mail Geoff Mosher at gmosher@comcastsportsnet.com