PHILADELPHIA - New Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland gathered his players in a corner of the practice fields at the NovaCare Complex Tuesday and had them work on their alignment against a bunch of overturned trash cans with numbers taped on them.

Tackle Lane Johnson, the team's first-round draft pick, was there, along with rookie free agents Michael Bamiro, Nic Purcell and Matt Tobin.

The group also included new tight end James Casey and starting center Jason Kelce. Although they were not required to report to training camp until today with the rest of the veterans, they both opted to come in a few days early.

"I left it up to both guys in terms of what they wanted to do," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "And James and Kelce both wanted to be here and be a part of it. Actually, both guys have been here all summer long, every day (working out on their own). Now we get to actually work with them."

Casey signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Eagles as an unrestricted free agent after spending his first four NFL seasons with Houston.

The 28-year-old underwent arthroscopic surgery in late May to clean out some cartilage in his right knee, but insisted he is 100 percent and ready to play a major role in Kelly's offense this season. The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder will be lining up at fullback, tight end and even wide receiver as the Eagles try to make the most of his versatility.

"I pride myself on being versatile," Casey said. "That's one of the big reasons that intrigued me to want to come to Philadelphia, with Chip Kelly and how he's going to use me in different roles. At different points of my career, I've played all those positions. I'm prepared for anything, and I feel comfortable playing all of those roles."

Casey, veteran Brent Celek and rookie Zach Ertz all figure to get a lot of playing time as part of Kelly's creative offense. If he decides to carry four tight ends, veteran Clay Harbor could also make the team.

But Kelly views Casey as one of the most important players.

"We pride ourselves on being able to put different personnel packages on the field at the same time," Kelly said. "Having a guy like James that can play multiple positions makes for a lot of difficult positions for the defense in terms of how you're going to defend them. We want to see what he does best and play to his strengths."

As important as Casey could be to the offense, Kelce will play a more vital role.

The 25-year-old tore two ligaments in his right knee in last season's opener at Cleveland and sat out the rest of the year. Without the 6-foot-3, 295-pounder in the middle, the Eagles' offensive line struggled. Its shoddy performance was one of the big reasons behind the Eagles' 4-12 record that led to coach Andy Reid's dismissal.

"I'm really excited to get out there again," Kelce said. "But nothing's guaranteed. Anytime you have a new coach there are always going to be a lot of question marks and no job is set in stone."

That especially includes quarterback.

Michael Vick, Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley are all in contention to be taking snaps from Kelce when the Eagles open this season at Washington on Sept. 9.

Fans and players are both wondering who will win the job.

"As an offensive lineman, all I do is block, regardless of who is back there," Kelce said. "But it will be exciting to see who winds up back there and gives us the best chance to win."

Meanwhile, Kelce is bracing himself for a big year.

He is wearing braces on both knees this season after not wearing any as a rookie in 2011 or last season.

"I wore them on both knees in college (at the University of Cincinnati), but it seems like the culture in the NFL is to not wear them," Kelce said. "But I'll have them on this season. I definitely don't want to tear any more ligaments."

Contact David Weinberg:

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