Dennis Kelly freely admits it.
When the first Eagles depth chart came out, and his name ranked above Lane Johnson at right tackle, it caught him by surprise. He hadn’t expected to be summoned to run with the starters.
“No, to be honest,” the second-year tackle said Monday after practice. “Lane is a good player. They’re bringing him along and I’m just trying to take advantage of the opportunity I have.”
Chip Kelly has delivered so far on his promise of open competition at quarterback and several other positions. Nobody had asked him about his vision for right tackle after the Eagles picked Johnson fourth overall in April’s draft. It seemed obvious.
First-round picks, especially prospects taken in the top five, are usually given the chance to fail before succeed. Chip Kelly, for the moment, doesn’t appear to be handing out starting jobs to anyone.
Johnson, the former Oklahoma tackle whose unique athleticism makes him custom tailored for the team’s warp-speed offense, hardly seemed fazed or perplexed about the depth chart or even concerned about roster jockeying before the pads come out.
“I know he’s there, but I really don’t care right now,” said Johnson. “We’ll see what happens when training camp comes.”
Dennis Kelly’s perspective on the competition is equal parts pragmatic and idealistic. In one sentence, he anticipates the day when Johnson naturally assumes his position atop the right tackle totem pole in practice. In another, he doesn’t dismiss the suggestion that he can ultimately edge Johnson for the job.
“It’s one of those things where we drafted Lane at four,” Dennis Kelly said. “It’s kind of hard not to play him.”
But later, when asked if the job is his to lose, Kelly said, “Yeah, why wouldn’t I look at it that way? Like I said before, I’ve just got to do my best and give them a reason to keep me on the field.”
The Eagles picked Kelly out of Purdue in the fifth round last year, not knowing that he would make 10 starts as a rookie after injuries reduced their offensive line to a collection of backups and street free-agent signings. Left guard Evan Mathis was the only offensive lineman to start all 16 games last year.
The towering Kelly -- at 6-foot-8, 321 pounds, he’s actually an inch taller and about 15 pounds heavier than Johnson -- debuted at guard, where he made three starts in place of an injured Danny Watkins, and played very much like a longtime tackle trying out guard for the first time.
He started the last seven games at tackle for Herremans, who had suffered season-ending foot and ankle injuries on Nov. 5. Kelly performed better at tackle but would have taken a backseat to Herremans at right tackle this season if the team hadn’t drafted Johnson and moved Herremans back to guard.
Kelly has practiced exclusively at tackle this offseason. He had spent much of the winter getting his body in the right shape to practice at the high tempo of Chip Kelly’s practices.
“I tried to slim down a little,” he said. “I’m still probably about the same weight, but it’s better weight. From a cardio aspect, I probably started a little bit early just to make sure I wasn’t taken aback and keeling over on the first day.”
Dennis Kelly freely admits it.