PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Protecting Michael Vick is such a concern for the Philadelphia Eagles, they've overhauled their offensive line.
First, Todd Herremans was moved from left guard to right tackle after the third preseason game. Then, rookie Jason Kelce was named the starting center. Lastly, four days before the season opener, first-round pick Danny Watkins lost his starting job at right guard to recently signed Kyle DeVan.
The defending NFC East champions open at St. Louis on Sunday with three new starters on the line and only one of the five _ left tackle Jason Peters _ playing the same position as last year.
"You have to trust your players that they're going to do the right thing and get it done," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Thursday. "Otherwise, you put yourself in a box, and then you don't give your team an opportunity to have success and win. I have great trust in our offensive line. We've got one of the great offensive line coaches. We've got talented guys up front. And now let's see how quickly they can play together as a unit, and at a high level as a unit."
Vick can make an average line look better because of his exceptional scrambling ability. But he still took too many hits last year and was especially vulnerable against the blitz late in the season.
Vick was sacked 34 times in 12 games, and the line gave up a total of 49 sacks. The four-time Pro Bowl quarterback missed three games with a rib injury, which he suffered on a hit he took at the end of a long run.
The Eagles began revamping their line by bringing in Howard Mudd to coach the position after promoting longtime offensive line coach Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator. Mudd was coaxed out of retirement after sitting out one season following 36 years in the NFL _ the last 12 with Indianapolis.
As for the players, only Peters, a four-time Pro Bowl pick, stayed put. Herremans moves over to protect Vick's blind side. Veteran Evan Mathis replaces Herremans. Kelce, a sixth-round pick, beat out veteran Jamaal Jackson. DeVan, who is familiar with Mudd's system, started for the Colts in the 2010 Super Bowl.
Gone are Mike McGlynn, Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole, who started a total of 31 games last year.
All the changes could create some chemistry problems, especially early in the season. Players aren't concerned, though.
"We've been working with new guys I think all throughout preseason," Kelce said. "I think there have been a lot of people rotating in with the ones throughout the whole preseason. We really didn't even set a starting unit in the preseason until that very last week, so I think that guys are used to working with different guys, guys are used to being with adversity and everything thrown in there. I don't think it really matters who's in the game.
"I think we all know what we're doing."
Herremans has a tough task after making all but five of his 76 career starts at left guard. The others were at left tackle. He replaces Winston Justice, who is just returning from a knee injury.
"If it was a problem, they wouldn't have done it," Herremans said. "They're trying to fix the problems that we had last year. As far as the answer, I'm going to do my best to go out there and be the answer."
The demotion of Watkins was surprising considering the Eagles anointed him the starter from the minute they selected the 26-year-old former firefighter with the 23rd overall pick in the draft.
Watkins took all the reps with the first team throughout training camp and the preseason until Wednesday. DeVan started 21 games at guard for the Colts the last two seasons. He's the fifth right guard the Eagles have used since former All-Pro Shawn Andrews got hurt in 2008.
"The obvious with DeVan is he started a few years there for Howard and the Colts, and did a nice job for them, was the starting guard on the Super Bowl team," Reid said. "He knows Howard's system, which we're using right now, so that's a positive thing. It gives us another good offensive lineman."
Reid isn't counting out Watkins. The Eagles invested too much in him. But he clearly isn't ready right now.
"You've got to remember with Danny now, and this is an important thing here with him, is that when you move from the college to the pros, that's a tough deal," Reid said. "When you move from tackle to guard, that's another tough deal, and when you move from the left side to the right side, that's another tough deal and then you add onto it missing part of camp. So he's been playing a catch-up game all the way through here.
"Even though he's a little bit older, he's still a rookie. He's working his tail off and I'm proud of him for how he's handled things and he'll do nothing but continue to get better."
It won't be easy for the new linemen in the first two games playing on the road in domes where the noise is louder than usual and they can have difficulty hearing the snap counts.
No matter who is out there blocking for the Eagles' new $100 million man, Vick is comfortable.
"I think you just have to keep it simple for the guys and keep them upbeat and confident," he said. "Experience is the best teacher, and that's what they're going to get right now. So we're going to bear with them and keep them confident. We'll be able to make that happen."
NOTES: Special teams coordinator Bobby April said wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin will return punts, and rookie Dion Lewis and Ronnie Brown will handle kickoffs. Jackson is a Pro Bowl returner, but there was some thought he wouldn't return punts this season because he's somewhat fragile and he's also in the final year of a contract. "He always wants the ball in his hands," April said. "And certainly he's had so much success over high school, college, and the NFL returning kicks, you know, that's really just a part of his play."