In today's "Five Minutes with Roob," Reuben Frank chats with Eagles center Jason Kelce:
Roob: Thanks for a few minutes, Jason. Hard to believe you're in your seventh training camp with the Eagles.
Kelce: It's hard to believe I'm going into seventh and Jason Peters is literally twice that, going into his 14th. We were talking about that. I can't even imagine doing twice what I've already done.
Roob: Hopefully you get to 14.
Kelce: Fourteen is a lot. I'm just trying to get through seven.
Roob: OK, let's go back in time. You were a multi-sport athlete growing up in Cleveland. You did a little bit of everything. What's the benefit for a young athlete playing a variety of sports?
Kelce: Yeah, I played lacrosse, hockey, baseball, soccer, wrestled for a little bit, a little bit of karate, played a lot of basketball on the playgrounds and backyards, never competitively. I'm a big advocate of letting kids play as many sports as possible. I think it really helps build overall athleticism and coordination. I think it certainly helped my brother and me.
Roob: Did those other sports help you as a football player?
Kelce: Absolutely, and I think the more games you play the more you're able to draw different things from different sports and assimilate them to yours. Soccer you develop some great foot work. You have to have good feet in order to play. I wasn't the best soccer player but it definitely helped me play this game. Hockey, same thing. Everything happens so fast in hockey so you learn to think quicker because everything is happening so fast in hockey because the ice is quicker and you're moving so fast. Baseball, you learn hand-eye coordination. There's all sorts of things, and I think all of those things when you're younger is developing habits and developing traits that build a foundation of coordination and athleticism and I don't think there's any question that that's helped me play the position of center in football better.
Roob: One of your soccer teammates was Kyle Gisser, who is my first cousin's son. What kind of athlete was he?
Kelce: Kyle was a phenomenal soccer player, and I still remember he was far, and away better than I was in soccer. In fact, I ran into a coach recently who coached both of us in soccer, and he couldn't believe I was in the NFL based on how good I was in soccer because that was not my best sport.
Roob: When did football become your main sport?
Kelce: I still played soccer up through high school, but it was probably middle school. I had always wanted to play football. I never played the Pee Wee game, so I started in middle school. I always enjoyed the sports where you could use your physicality. Hockey, lacrosse … probably because that was my best attribute. So I just gravitated to the game.
Roob: When you went to college at Cincinnati, you started on the defensive side of the ball, right? Weren't you a defensive lineman?
Kelce: I was actually a linebacker. Freshman year at Cincinnati, I showed up at 230 pounds, maybe 235. I was not a very strong kid, I wasn't a very big kid. I hadn't really lifted weights or been a regimen that serious before. Our high school didn't really have that. And I was playing so many other sports I didn't really have time to dedicate to it. So I went through a rude awakening my first year of college where I red-shirted and really learned what a full season of preparation was like. It was the first time I had only played one sport in my life, and it really allowed me to grow very quickly because I had never done that before.
Roob: At what point did you move over to offensive line?
Kelce: I was recruited by Mark Dantonio, who's now the head coach at Michigan State. He left my first year and that spring, with my new coaches, after a week of spring ball, they said they were moving me to center because they were moving to a more athletic offensive line because they were moving to more zone plays, and they wanted someone quick and agile who could also put on the weight that they wanted. So they tried me out and I actually did really well, and they said they were going to keep me there, but I was still a walk-on. I wasn't on scholarship. I remember having this conversation with Jeff Quinn, who was the offensive line coach at the time, and I said, ‘I would love to stay here, I want to be here, but I'm not going to put on 60 pounds just because you guys want to keep me at center.' I told them if they want that, I need a scholarship, otherwise I'll go somewhere else, and they gave me a scholarship. That was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.
Roob: That's pretty good negotiating skill right there. You could probably be an agent.
Kelce: It worked out great. I don't know if it was bluffing or not, but it worked.
Roob: So the Eagles draft you in the sixth round in 2011 and going into that training camp you were the backup behind Jamaal Jackson, who had been the starter for a long time. You were a sixth-round pick and a long-shot to even make the roster. What was your mindset during your rookie camp?
Kelce: I definitely didn't have a mentality that I was going to be the starter, to tell you the truth. My mentality was just to go out there and compete and make the team and I think just do the best I can, and fortunately I had an offensive line coach who believed in me, Howard Mudd, and he taught me a bunch of techniques as an under-sized player that I could utilize at this level. I still remember having a conversation with him where he said, ‘Do you want to play this year?' And at that point that wasn't really in my mind, but they started giving me some reps and it became clear this was very much a competition between me and Jamaal. And give credit to Jamaal because he helped me all along the way.
Roob: You won the starting job that summer and you've been the starting center since 2011, making two Pro Bowls. There's only four players who've been here longer than you - Jason Peters, Brandon Graham, Jon Dorenbos and Brent Celek. You're one of the old-timers now. But you admittedly struggled for much of last year and said last year that if you didn't play better you wouldn't be here any longer. How did that shape your offseason?
Kelce: I love being in Philadelphia, I love being here my whole career. That's just the nature of this business. The moment you're not producing, the moment you're not playing well, they're looking to replace you. Really at all times they're looking to replace anybody if they can improve the team. I've been very good here as a player in the past. I had a rough start last year and it really took a lot of self-evaluation, looking at the technique I was using, looking at some other things, and that still happened in the offseason as well. But I think I'm in a much better place now. Jeff Stoutland said that's going to stay on me about certain little things that are definitely going to make a difference in my game. But I love being here. There's not an organization I'd rather be with. The group of guys we have here in our room, you really grow to appreciate and understand everybody's role in having success and having fun, and it's awesome being here.
Roob: Finally, I heard you had a pretty tough offseason training partner - your girlfriend's dog. Who got the best of those matchups?
Kelce: I actually almost ended up hurting her the last time we were running with her. I was doing half-gassers and when I was coming back she stopped real quick and I kneed her in the head. But it's been a blessing. That dog. There's something about dogs. Every time you see them you're the best thing in the world to them. She's a great dog, and she definitely pushed me.