Is the Eagles’ offensive line good enough? Last year they gave up 49 sacks, had Michael Vick running for his life often, and allowed Kevin Kolb to get concussed 1 and 1/2 quarters into his career as a starter. This group was often seen as our 2nd biggest weakness, right behind the defensive secondary. We added 3 players from the draft including our #1 pick Danny Watkins. If and when we trade Kolb, protecting Vick becomes priority #1 since we will then be walking a tightrope without a safety net.
When it comes to the offensive line, you often hear coaches talk about playing your best 5 guys regardless of position. Andy Reid believes in that philosophy which is why there will be some open competition for starting spots this year. New OL coach Howard Mudd will be installing a new blocking scheme so that could impact who wins a starting job as well. Let’s take a look at the linemen currently on the roster and see how each player figures in for the 2011 plans and then try and determine who the best 5 will be.
As a note of reference in determining how well an offensive lineman played last year, I found an interesting web site titled Pro Football Focus. This site accumulates stats for everything, including offensive linemen, and grade them according to their own formula. They recently ran an article analyzing the Eagles offensive line and makes for a good read.
LT Jason Peters: Very talented and gifted athlete for his position. Sometimes inconsistent but is currently our best lineman. Not much to debate here, he will be our starting left tackle.
LG Todd Herremans: Andy Reid was recently asked in an interview if there is a possibility of Herremans switching to RT, something he hinted at after day 1 of the draft. He now backed off from that, somewhat…”Right now, that’s probably not going to happen,” Reid said in an interview with WPEN. “He’s probably going to be playing guard“. Notice he said “probably” twice? We know nowadays that Reid is fickle and will change his mind in a flash but chances are he stays at LG. PFF feels that his run blocking has improved but that his pass blocking is regressing. They have him as giving up 33 QB pressures and 3 sacks last year. I like “Herr-Dog” and feel he’s a solid player.
C Jamaal Jackson: The center position will be one of the competitions but mainly between he and McGlynn. Jackson will be attempting to comeback from 2 consecutive season ending injuries. In December of 2009 he tore his ACL and on opening day last year he tore his triceps. Before his injury in 2009, PFF has him giving up only 10 QB pressures and no sacks. Jackson is a local product, going undrafted out of Delaware State in 2003 and has been a solid starting center in the NFL. Not pro bowl caliber but good enough. If he has fully recovered from his injuries, he is the favorite to win the starting job…again.
C/G Mike McGlynn: He is a 2008 4th round draft pick that got his chance last year when Jackson went down. After a shaky start, he seemed to settle into the position and from my point of view played “ok” but certainly not good enough to entrench him as a starter. PFF has him ranked as 31st out of 34 centers in pass protection (gave up 2 sacks, 6 hits, and 21 QB pressures). He will be given a chance at winning the starting job but chances are he’ll end up being the back up.
RG Danny Watkins: Our 2011 #1 draft pick is already slated to be our right guard. According to Reid: ”Danny, he’s ready to go,” Reid said. “I think it’s just a matter of getting in and doing it. But physically and mentally he’s ready to step in and take on a starting spot.“ Watkins wasn’t drafted to sit and learn for a year, he will definitely be on the field come opening day barring something disastrous.
RT Winston Justice: This guy is somewhat of an enigma. He was considered a 1st round prospect coming out of USC in 2006. After drafting Brodrick Bunkley in round 1, Reid was all smiles after being able to trade up in round 2 to land Justice. He made his 1st start in 2007, that infamous game against the Giants where he was abused by Osi Umenyiora. He went back to the bench after that but got his chance again in 2009 and has been a starter ever since. Here is an excerpt from the PFF article on Justice…
2010 starter, Winston Justice, is coming off a down year but his struggles have been exaggerated due to his benching in the Wild Card game against Green Bay. Justice, +0.4 in pass pro, gave up 40 combined pressures in 613 drop backs, which is right around average. He gave up too many penalties (10) and continued to struggle in the run game (-5.0) but the team must have been aware of the latter when they signed him to an extension in 2009. The potential is certainly there also, as Justice’s +10.0 pass blocking rating two seasons ago had him ranked eighth overall.
Interesting stuff. My feeling on Justice is that he is average, a couple rungs on the ladder below where Jon Runyan was. In case you don’t remember, he was also the one who was responsible for blocking Clay Mathews on the play where he crushed Kevin Kolb and changed our 2010 season. Mathews showed great hustle on the play in chasing Kolb down but he was the one who beat Justice initially and flushed Kolb out of the pocket.
Before the draft, I was hoping we would take a RT within our first couple of picks that would challenge Justice for the job. But I guess the Eagles had other plans. Now our RT position is going to be a competition between Justice and King Dunlap…not exactly the Clash Of The Titans. Here is what Reid had to say on the subject:
“I think we’re pretty solid at that tackle position,” Reid said. “ I think Winston or King will work that right side and then Jason Peters is pretty well locked in at that left tackle spot. King Dunlap stepped in at both right and left tackle last year and showed us that he can play, so that gives us a little flexibility there, and Winston’s coming back off the [knee] injury and I think he’s actually doing pretty good.”
T King Dunlap: As you just read above, he’s apparently going to compete with Justice for the RT position. “The King” is another interesting story in that heading into his senior season in college, he was considered a top tackle prospect that was projected to be drafted within the 1st three rounds. But something happened during his senior year in that his play became very inconsistent and led to his benching. The fact that he was replaced by a freshman didn’t bode well for his draft stock and future as an NFL player.
For a 2008 7th round pick though, he has been solid. He has filled in at both the RT and LT spots and has done a decent job considering the circumstances. He’s apparently done enough to convince Reid to consider him a candidate for the 2011 starting RT job. This is what PFF had to say about him:
Although his overall numbers from last year aren’t especially impressive (just +0.4 overall,) a couple of performances stand out. Twice Dunlap shut out skilled pass rushers. In week six, John Abraham generated no pressure at all, and Dunlap was perfect again in week 17 against Dallas.
I’m not sure what caused Dunlap to regress in his senior season but if he can get it turned around and take advantage of his gigantic stature (6′ 9″ 330 lbs) he could turn out to be a steal. At this point, I feel the RT position is definitely a 50/50 shot between he and Justice. It will be the most interesting battle in training camp (assuming there is one).
G Nick Cole: He was once promising but is now on his way out of town. The Eagles did not tender him an RFA contract so he will be a free agent once the league opens. He was an undrafted free agent in 2006 but did start several games for us, mostly at guard. He was also the one who filled in for Jackson at center in 2009 and took a lot of criticism for playing horribly. It is unlikely he will be an Eagle in 2011.
G Max Jean-Gilles: He was a 4th round pick in 2006 and was given an RFA tender by the Eagles. MJG has started several games and is viewed as an adequate reserve but not quite starting material. He will face an up-hill battle to make the 2011 roster and will have to beat out the rookies.
T Austin Howard: He was signed as an undrafted free agent last year. The coaches have spoken positively about him and feel he has good upside. He surprisingly made the 53 man roster last year as well. There will be a numbers crunch so Howard will have to shine at camp in order to squeeze his way onto the roster this year.
G Reggie Wells: He was acquired in a trade with Arizona for a 6th round pick just before the regular season started last year. With the disaster at the RG position, the fact that Wells couldn’t crack the starting lineup tells me that he’ll likely be gone this year.
Last year’s practice sqaud’ers G Dallas Reynolds, C AQ Shipley, and T Fenuki Tupou: At one time the Eagles coaches were high on Tupou, their 5th round pick in 2009. But an injury and a year on the practice squad later, his future is murky to say the least. He, along with Shipley and Reynolds will need to have an outstanding training camp if they hope to make it off the practice squad…unless they take a page out of Tanya Harding’s book.
The other rookies G Julian Vandervelde and C Jason Kelce: These 2 will be interesting to watch. They were drafted in the 5th and 6th rounds respectively but Reid likes to keep the players he has just drafted. Unless, of course, they are really bad in camp/practice. Just by way of being drafted this year, they already have a leg up on players like Reynolds and Shipley. But will they be good enough to beat out someone like MJG?
The Eagles typically keep 9 offensive linemen on the 53 man roster. Here are the stone cold locks to make the roster: Peters, Herremans, Watkins, Justice, McGlynn, and Jackson. The guys that have a strong chance are Dunlap and Vandervelde. That leaves 1 spot up for grabs between this group most likely: MJG, Kelce, and Howard. The rest are long shots. And we aren’t even taking any potential new UDFA’s into consideration yet.
I think the best 5 guys that will be our starters are Peters, Herremans, Jackson, Watkins, and Justice. Is that good enough improvement over last year? If Jackson returns to pre-injury form and Watkins pans out as expected then yes, I believe that will be significant improvement. My only concern, oddly enough, is how Howard Mudd. Even though he is renowned for his coaching, the fact remains that he will basically be re-training our OL. Will the players adapt well enough or be confused for the 1st year as they transition? But all in all they will have “good enough” talent to be successful next year.