Frank: Eagles move past mediocre O-line crop

Frank: Eagles move past mediocre O-line crop
May 10, 2011, 5:30 pm
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Posted: 1:50 p.m.
By Reuben Frank

If you dont think the interior of the offensive line was a huge problem the Eagles had to address, do two things.

Watch the 2009 Cowboys playoff game.

Watch the 2010 Packers playoff game.

Do that, and its easy to understand why the Eagles drafted three interior linemen in last months draft, including projected immediate starter Danny Watkins in the first round.

As much as the secondary has to improve and as much as the pass rush needs to be addressed and as much as the linebackers have to get better, there was no more pressing issue facing the Eagles this offseason than the offensive line.

The last two playoff losses proved that.

In 2009, the Eagles were forced to start Nick Cole at center and Max Jean-Gilles at right guard in the wild-card game against the Cowboys, thanks to center Jamaal Jacksons season-ending injury suffered Week 15 against the Broncos and the inability of big-money free agent Stacy Andrews to solidify the right guard spot.

In 2010, the Eagles were forced to start Mike McGlynn at center and Cole at right guard against the eventual Super Bowl-champion Packers after injuries to Jackson and Jean-Gilles.

Although McGlynn was solid as a first-time starter, the constant shuffling of interior linemen and the infuriating presence of Cole -- a borderline NFL backup -- in the starting lineup in consecutive playoff games caught up with the Eagles.

After recording the two highest-scoring regular seasons in franchise history, the offense was shockingly ineffective in both first-round playoff losses. And although the circumstances were different, the blame goes right up front.

The O-line was awful in both games and really, the right side of the line has been a disaster since Shawn Andrews transformed from a devastating All-Pro right guard into a perennially injured and disinterested castoff.

In that 2009 playoff loss, the Eagles fell behind quickly (27-7 in second quarter) and managed just seven points before a meaningless touchdown in the final minutes, Donovan McNabbs final TD pass as an Eagle. In the 2010 playoff loss, the Eagles fell behind quickly (14-0 in second quarter) and had just 10 points before a late fourth-quarter TD.

In both games, the Eagles couldnt protect a Pro Bowl quarterback, never got untracked in the running game and struggled to convert third downs.

No matter how talented your quarterback and receivers and tailback, if the other teams defensive line is teeing off on your O-line, it doesnt matter.

Which leads us to this years draft. In Watkins, the Eagles have a plug-and-play right guard who should be a dramatic upgrade starting from Day 1. Remember, in the last four drafts, the Eagles did not take a lineman anywhere in the first three rounds. And they didnt take any in 2010.

Then in the late rounds, Reid took two more interior linemen -- Iowas Julian Vandervelde in the fifth round and Cincinnatis Jason Kelce in the sixth.

We wanted to get more talent on our offensive line, general manager Howie Roseman said. And we think these are talented guys who fit our scheme.

Some people will get emotional about the end of the David Akers Era or the end of the Quintin Mikell Era. But nobody will ever harken back longingly for the Nick Cole and Jean-Gilles days. Jean-Gilles and Cole are both free agents.

The Eagles had to move on.

Howie and I both thought it was time to bring in some new guys, Reid said. And weve spent so much time on the defensive line and bringing in the young guys there that we felt it was time now to make sure we get back and fill in here with some young guys on the offensive line.

Looking ahead to the 2011 line, Jason Peters, Todd Herremans and Watkins are locks to start, and Jamaal Jackson will start at center, assuming no injury setbacks. Reid said Winston Justice and King Dunlap will compete at right tackle, so presumably the backup tackles will be either Justice or Dunlap and Austin Howard, the backup guards will be McGlynn and Vandervelde. McGlynn can back up at center, as well. That leaves one spot for a Dallas Reynolds-type, a veteran guy who can play a few spots, with Kelce likely headed for the practice squad.

At least on paper, it seems like a stronger group with greater depth than the last couple years.

We werent trying to force anything, Roseman said. It happened that when we picked these guys they were the highest-rated guys on our board. We think theyre going to have a chance to come in and compete for starting jobs at some point, and it just kind of fit a need.

The Eagles did stock up on interior linemen in 2004 -- Andrews in the first round, Trey Darilek in the fourth and Adrien Clarke and Dominic Furio in the seventh -- but only Andrews panned out from that group.

Before that, the last time the Eagles took this many inside linemen in the same draft was 1986, when Buddy Ryan drafted center Bob Landsee in the sixth round and guards Steve Bogdalek and Reggie Singletary in the 11th and 12th, respectively.

Roseman and Reid see this years late-round offensive line crop as similar to last years late-round linebackers -- fourth-rounder Keenan Clayton will be in the mix at weak-side this year and seventh-rounder Jamar Chaney will start at middle or strong-side.

We saw there was a lot of depth at certain positions in the middle of the draft, and we thought we could kind of gang up on a couple of those guys, Roseman said. You see we did that at linebacker last year and try to follow through and just get a bunch of players, even if we had them similarly graded. Make sure and try to hit on guys.
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