Monday, May 30, 2011
Posted: 10 a.m.
By Reuben Frank
In the third installment of this summers Most Overrated and Underrated Eagles of all Time, we take a look at offensive linemen. The Eagles have had plenty of terrible offensive linemen over the years. Anybody heard from David Diaz-Infante, Dennis McKnight or Lonnie Palelei lately? But who are the most overrated and underrated?
Next Monday: Defensive backs.
He talked tough, he looked tough, he acted tough. He just didnt play tough.
The Eagles signed Steve Everitt to a much-ballyhooed five-year, 11.5 million contract before the 1996 season, making him the highest-paid center in NFL history at the time.
Everitt looked the part and quickly became a fan favorite because of his affinity for tattoos, heavy metal and motorcycles. Theres a phrase football scouts use: Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane. Applies here. Everitt was big, mean looking, talked trash and seemed to be everything Eagles fans had been craving in an offensive lineman after a decade of O-line ineptitude. Everitt was the highest drafted center in the 1990s, the 14th pick in 1993, and we all agreed it was about time the Eagles finally had a big-time offensive lineman.
Only problem was that Everitt wasnt very good. He was actually pretty bad.
Everitt lasted three years with the Eagles, and it was the worst three-year period the franchise has endured since the mid-1970s. From 1997 through 1999, with Everitt in the middle of everything, the Eagles had the fewest wins in the NFL (14), scored the fewest points in the NFL (15.6 per game) and allowed the third-most sacks (169, five fewer than the Raiders).
The interesting thing about Everitt is that it took us a little while to realize just how ineffective he was. After a generation of bad offensive linemen -- from Adam Schreiber to Gerry Feehery to Ron Hallstrom to Broderick Thompson to Ben Tamburello to Barrett Brooks -- we desperately wanted Everitt to be the savior. The guy who brought our O-line back to respectability. Instead, he led it through one of the darkest periods in Eagles history.
Dave Alexander benefitted from being surrounded by some world-class awful offensive linemen, so in comparison, it seemed like he was relatively competent. In reality, Alexander was a relatively small, relatively ineffective, relatively soft center whose intelligence and savvy werent enough to make up for his physical limitations.
Alexander was certainly durable -- he started 113 consecutive games for the Eagles at left guard (1988) or center (1989 through 1994) over an eight-year period. During that span, the Eagles allowed more sacks than any NFL team (307) and won just one playoff game (thanks mainly to the defense).
Alexander blocked for just one running back who gained at least 700 yards in a season, and that back -- Herschel Walker -- was benched by the end of his only 1,000-yard season in Philly.
Alexanders biggest job was protecting Randall Cunningham, and on opening day 1991, he failed to do that, allowing Packers linebacker Bryce Paup a free shot on the reigning NFL MVP. Paup came in low at Randall early in the second quarter at Lambeau Field, tearing up his knee and ending his season. Those 1991 Birds had one of the greatest defenses ever assembled -- No. 1 against the pass, No. 1 against the run -- but without Randall, they didnt even make the playoffs.
Thats Alexanders lasting legacy. The one play hes best-known for may have cost the Eagles a trip to the Super Bowl.
Steve Wallace remains one of the most infuriating free agent signings in Eagles history. After the 49ers released him in the spring of 1996 to let Kirk Scrafford start at left tackle, the Eagles snapped up Wallace, signing him to a one-year, 1.1 million contract to finally answer their long-standing issues at left tackle.
Wallace was a former Pro Bowl player and two-time All-Pro who had won three Super Bowl rings as a 49er, so this was a huge move for the Eagles.
It lasted about two months.
After one preseason game, one of the Eagles assistant coaches, asked how bad Wallace played, grumbled, It looked like the damn fix was in.
Wallace was so bad the Eagles released him before the season even began.
He quickly rejoined the 49ers for the NFL minimum of 275,000. And quickly reclaimed his starting left tackle job over the since-forgotten Scrafford. Wallace helped Steve Young and the 49ers reach the playoffs, where in the wild-card round they faced ... the Eagles.
With Wallace playing the entire game at left tackle, the 49ers beat the Eagles, 14-0. The ultimate insult to the Eagles was that Wallace counted more against the Eagles salary cap in 1996 (375,000) than the Niners cap (275,000). Yet he was a 49er all year -- and helped end the Eagles season.
So essentially, the Eagles paid Wallace nearly half a million dollars to kick their butts.
For the first few years of his career, Jermane Mayberry was just another in a long line of Eagles first-round offensive line busts.
The original plan was to play him at left tackle, but that lasted one week in 1997, and after the Eagles drafted Tra Thomas in 1998, Mayberrys days at tackle were over for good.
So he was quietly shifted over to left guard in 1998 -- and promptly benched late in the season for George Hegamin. He spent 1999 as a backup at a variety of positions before finally getting a shot at right guard in 2000, his fifth NFL season.
It was at right guard that Mayberry finally emerged as a very solid, very capable and very resilient lineman. After getting benched several times by two coaches, he even made a Pro Bowl team in 2002.
Although he missed a bunch of games in 2003, Mayberry was a fixture on Eagles teams that reached the playoffs every year from 2000 through 2004, reaching the NFC Championship Game four straight years and the Super Bowl in the 2004-05 season.
He never quite shed the tag as a first-round bust, but by the time his 10-year career was over, Mayberry was anything but a bust. He was one of the Eagles best offensive linemen of the past 25 years.
All you need to do to recognize Jacksons value is go back and examine what happened when he got hurt in 2009.
The Eagles had the No. 5 offense in the NFL and they were rolling toward the playoffs, scoring nearly 32 points per game over the previous two months when the Broncos came to town Christmas weekend.
At halftime, the Eagles were up 20-10. But Jackson was done. Late in the second quarter, he had torn the ACL in his left knee, ending his season.
After tearing through the Broncos for 20 first-half points, they managed 10 in the second half. Then they were shut out by the Cowboys on the last day of the season and then held to 14 points -- seven of them on a meaningless touchdown in the closing minutes -- in their wild-card game at Dallas.
With Jackson? They scored 419 points in 14 12 games, or 29 per game.
Without Jackson? They scored 24 points in 2 12 games, or 9.6 per game.
Because he was undrafted and even spent time in 2003 and 2005 on the Eagles practice squad, Jackson has never gotten his due as a big-time center. But he is one. Hes big and smart and powerful and athletic enough to handle the unusually high amount of 1-on-1 blocking the Eagles demand from their center.
Although the Eagles did a better job replacing Jackson in 2010 when he got hurt again -- Mike McGlynn was an upgrade over Nick Cole -- his absence certainly showed again in the playoffs, when the Eagles managed only 16 points against the Packers.
Since 2006, the Eagles have averaged 24 points in playoff games with Jackson and 15 points in playoff games without him.
The Eagles assembled for a summer workout a few weeks before training camp in 1989, and the first thing Ron Baker did when he arrived at the teams facility was check out the teams preseason depth chart. He saw he was listed as the fourth-team guard.
The fourth team? Baker told reporters after a practice at JFK Stadium. Ive been around long enough to know there isnt a fourth team.
And with that, Baker retired, quietly walking away from the game after 11 unheralded, but solid, years.
That was typical Ron Baker. He never liked to draw attention to himself. He just played the game at a high level and let his play speak for itself.
Because Baker was part of the 1986 offensive line that allowed a staggering NFL-record 104 sacks -- 26 more than any other team in history -- Baker is incorrectly remembered by many as just another Buddy Ryan slappy offensive linemen. But he wasnt Ron Solt or Matt Patchan or Matt Darwin. He was actually a solid pro who was a backup and occasional starter on the 1980 Super Bowl team, and he started on some decent offensive lines on bad teams in the mid-1980s. He was also still starting in 1988, when the Eagles ranked No. 5 in the NFL in offense and finally reached the playoffs for the first time since 1981.
By 1988, only Baker and Roynell Young remained from the 1980 Super Bowl team. Baker turned humble beginnings -- he was a 10th-round pick of the Colts in 1977 -- into a decade-long career with the Eagles that spanned both the Dick Vermeil and Buddy Ryan Eras.
He was a good player that played on a really bad offensive line. You cant get much more underrated than that.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org
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