Examining the Eagles' Options at Left Tackle

Examining the Eagles' Options at Left Tackle

With Jason Peters likely shelved in 2012, the Eagles are scrambling to replace their All-Pro left tackle. They already re-signed King Dunlap to a one-year deal, and another move could be on the way. We take a closer look at their remaining options.

Sign a Free Agent
Believe it or not, there are still decent tackles available in free agency. Of course, the downside is there are usually reasons why a player is available nearly three weeks after free agency began.

The focus for the moment is on Demetrius Bell, who is scheduled to visit Philadelphia over the weekend according to Howard Eskin. Coincidentally, the 6-5, 311-lbs. Bell replaced Peters in Buffalo, and he developed into a decent player, but has had trouble staying on the field, missing eight games in '09, nine last season with knee injuries. Plus, Bell visited the Steelers on Friday, so there is competition for his services -- and while Pittsburgh is tighter against the salary cap, they are in better position to offer him multiple years.

The Eagles have also reached out to Marcus McNeill, a two-time Pro Bowler with the Chargers, but his health is an even bigger concern. A second-round pick in '06, McNeill missed the final seven games last season with a neck injury, and was released earlier this month when he was unable to pass a physical. He was in the first year of a five-year deal worth $48 million, so that situation is not very promising.

There doesn't seem to be much left besides damaged goods. Kareem McKenzie is healthy, but the 33 year old is coming off a dreadful season for the Giants. Max Starks tore his ACL in Pittsburgh's playoff loss to the Broncos, and isn't close to signing anywhere. Rounding out the starters is Barry Richardson, who never panned out for the Chiefs. Are any of those guys an upgrade over Dunlap?

Realistically, the Eagles may not be able to find an upgrade, and instead might want to worry about finding capable depth. Journeyman Tony Pashos has started 70 games during a nine-year NFL career, including 12 with the Browns last season. He can push Dunlap for a job, or replace him if necessary.

Draft
I was genuinely surprised by the number of folks who are seriously discussing not only drafting a tackle in the first round, nay, trading up as high as the third overall pick to select USC's Matt Kalil, the consensus top tackle in the draft. It's hard to envision Kalil slipping past the Vikings at three, let alone dropping out of the top five, and we all saw how cost prohibitive trading up that high could be when the Redskins exchanged this year's first, and included two future firsts in a package of picks to jump from sixth to second. Welcome to earth.

That doesn't necessarily preclude them from using their first-round pick though, or even from trading up a few spots to get the next best thing. Iowa's Riley Reiff and Standford's Jonathan Martin are both first-round prospects who could be off the board around or slightly before the Eagles pick. Such a move stinks of desperation though, and causes a roster logjam a year from now.

Todd Herremans was just extended through 2016, and clearly is not getting away any time soon, while Peters is on the books through 2014. While it certainly isn't safe to assume Peters will pick up right where he left off as the game's best offensive lineman, much less ever reach that level again, the Eagles would have three tackles who demand playing time in 2013. Sure, Peters can be released with no cap penalty, but I'm not sure how that's even worth considering at the moment, and he'll be difficult to trade if he hasn't played since the injury.

If a tackle is the best player on the board, then by all means, the Eagles should take him. As this situation demonstrates, you can never have too much offensive line depth, particularly on the outside. However, they shouldn't use their first round pick based solely on a need this season. As we saw with Danny Watkins in 2011, there is no guarantee a rookie will even be ready. They are better off using a mid-round selection, and developing that player in case Peters doesn't rebound.

Move Herremans
Left tackle is typically considered the most important position on the offensive line, so the Eagles could move their remaining starter at tackle to compensate.

Reasons for moving Herremans: most teams line up their best pass rusher over the left tackle. Would you rather have Dunlap or Herremans blocking DeMarcus Ware? The right side of the offensive line is also the "strong" side. The tight end usually lines up along side the right tackle, where he can assist in protection.

Reasons to leave Herremans: Since Vick is a left-handed quarterback, the right tackle is responsible for his blind side. Usually you prefer the most reliable lineman has the QB's back. Additionally, it creates an even larger shakeup that will affect continuity. Right now, the Eagles are only replacing one player. If they switch Herremans, both Evan Mathis and Watkins will be learning to play with a different teammate from a year ago. For Watkins, it could cause an unnecessary growing pain for a kid who had his share of struggles as a rookie.

It seems moving Herremans solves little, and invents another set of issues altogether. In fact, Herremans has started six games on the left in seven NFL seasons, so we're not exactly talking about a proven solution. In lieu of another option from free agency or the draft, they should at least give Dunlap a shot to earn the job, and go to plan B only if necessary.

Don't Panic
It's no surprise in the initial shock of this all, we are grasping at any and every straw that comes along. Jason Peters is a great, great player, and there is no way the front office can truly replace him in time for the 2012 season.

But don't you think maybe we are selling King Dunlap just a little bit short? This kid has come a long way since the Birds took him in the seventh round of the '08 draft. He has the tools to succeed in the NFL, and in seven career starts, has never once really disappointed. Who knows, maybe he is capable.

If the Eagles can find somebody better, fine. Just remember there's a reason why teams draft players in the later rounds, then hide them on the practice squad or at the end of the bench, spending years teaching them the system, coaching them up, preparing them to play. Sometimes, you wind up relying on those guys.

It's not the ideal scenario for a team with Super Bowl aspirations, but neither were the seemingly insurmountable injuries that faced the Giants last season, or the Packers a year earlier, or most teams that wind up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy -- some with backup quarterbacks. Why not with a backup left tackle?

Maybe this is Dunlap's chance to sink or swim... and the Eagles along with him.

Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Plastered on a wall outside the press box in Coca-Cola Park is a sign — "Pigs to the Bigs" — surrounded by dozens of stars.

Each has upon it the name of a player who has made the leap from the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs to the parent Phillies since Lehigh Valley began operations in 2008 — everyone from outfielder Chris Snelling (April 30, 2008) to pitcher Nick Pivetta (April 29, 2017), the latter of whom has since returned to the IronPigs.

It is a study in the star-crossed, of guys who bounced up and down (Pete Orr, July 8, 2011), guys who flamed out (Domonic Brown, July 28, 2010), guys whose fate is yet to be determined (Maikel Franco, Sept. 3, 2014).

The point being that the path to major-league stardom seldom follows a straight line.

That has been demonstrated once again by the Phillies' top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, who spent weeks in bounce-back mode earlier this season.

And now finds himself there again.

His 0-for-4 night in Thursday's 8-4 loss to Indianapolis left him hitless in his last 16 at-bats, his slash line for the season at .175/.291/.221.

Recall that Crawford, the 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft, had exactly four hits in 48 at-bats over his first 14 games of the season, an average of .083.

Never before had the 22-year-old experienced anything like it, and he took a methodical approach to remedying the problem. He did some video work. He tinkered with his stance. He consulted with hitting coach Sal Rende and roving minor-league hitting instructor Andy Tracy. And slowly but surely, he began coming around.

The thinking at that point was that his slump might serve as a valuable lesson, a blessing in disguise.

As Crawford put it hours before Thursday's first pitch, "I'd rather struggle here than if I ever make it to the big leagues, God willing. I'd much rather have it [happen] down here than up there."

Though it will happen there, too. Baseball, everyone always says, is a game of failure. It's just a matter of how each player deals with it, works through it, minimizes it.

Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan has said repeatedly that he was impressed by Crawford's approach to his scuffling start, that he thought the youngster treated it as "a growing opportunity" that can only help him down the line.

It was all Wathan could have hoped for, for Crawford or anybody else.

"I think it's a good thing to be able to have some experience to look back on, later on," he said. "Now, when they're going through it they probably don't think of it that way, but those of us who have been around baseball and been in situations like that personally, too, know that it's going to get better."

Wathan, seated at his office desk in a T-shirt and shorts before Thursday's game, has been around the block. He previously managed Crawford at Double A Reading, and believes those 14 games in April represent a blip.

"We know that J.P.'s a great player," Wathan said. "I think [such struggles] can actually end up being a good thing for these guys."

If Crawford, a native Californian, had few previous failures to draw upon — "He hasn't really had any," Wathan said — he at least had a ready roster of big-time athletes in his family with whom he could commiserate. His dad, Larry, was a CFL defensive back from 1981-89. His cousin, Carl, was a major-league outfielder for 15 years, ending last season. His older sister, Eliza, played softball at Cal State-Fullerton.

Certainly it appears they have kept him grounded, because he is singularly unimpressed by his draft status or ranking with various scouting services.

"I [couldn't] care less about that," he said. "All that doesn't really matter. Once you get on the field, everyone's the same. Everyone's the same player."

Though he was somewhat less than that early on. He was admittedly frustrated, but far from defeated.

"You've got to stay on the positive [side] on everything," he said. "You can't get too down on yourself, or else you're just going to do worse."

Had it been a major-league situation instead of a player-development situation, it is entirely possible that Wathan would have held him out of the lineup a day or two, just to let him clear his head.

"Or maybe not, because he contributes every night, somehow," the manager said.

And as Crawford said, "You're not going to get better sitting. You've got to go out there and play."

He admitted earlier this month that while he had once been reluctant about video study, he found great benefit in it when he was looking for answers in late April.

He decided to raise his hands while at the plate, and the hits began to come. He batted at a .253 clip over 24 games, including a six-game hitting streak, bringing his average to a season-best .196 on May 20.

Now it's back to the drawing board. It is, after all, a game of failure. It's just a matter of dealing with it, working through it, minimizing it.

He has become well-acquainted with the concept.

Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas front-runners to face NFL's top receivers

Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas front-runners to face NFL's top receivers

Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Terrelle Pryor, Larry Fitzgerald. 

That's the murderers' row of receivers the Eagles will face during the 2017 season, cornerback deficiency and all. 

This week, we got our first look at who the Eagles are tasking with the unenviable challenge of trying to stop — or at the very least slow down — some of the best wide receivers in the NFL. 

At their first OTA practice of the spring, Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson were the team's starters in the base package, while rookie Rasul Douglas was on the field as the third corner in the nickel package. 

"The way Coach Cory Undlin works and the way Coach (Jim) Schwartz works, this depth chart right now is not important," Mills said. 

"It's about going out there and proving to those guys each and every day that you deserve whatever spot they have you in or moving up the depth chart." 

While it's true the depth chart at the first practice in the spring might not mean much, and while it's also important to remember that veteran Ron Brooks is recovering from a quad tendon tear, if Mills, Robinson and Douglas perform well enough, they won't ever give up their jobs. 

Of course, that's a big if. 

Mills was a seventh-round pick last year, who had a decent season but also went through his ups and downs. Robinson is a 29-year-old former first-round pick but has never lived up to that draft status. And Douglas is a rookie third-round pick. 

"I really don't have any expectations, just to be the best player I can be," Robinson said. "If I'm the best player that I can be, then I'll be a starter."

It might seem like a stretch to think these three will be able to stop the marquee receivers they'll face this year. But it's not like the Eagles have much of a choice. Their two starting corners from a year ago are gone — Nolan Carroll signed with the Cowboys as a free agent and Leodis McKelvin was released and is still without a team. And it's not like either played well in 2016. 

The Eagles drafted Sidney Jones in the second round, but he's not close to returning from his Achilles tear and Brooks isn't yet ready to fully practice. The Eagles also have undrafted second-year corner C.J. Smith and former CFL all-star Aaron Grymes. 

But Mills, Robinson and Douglas are the best they have right now. 

On Tuesday, Mills and Robinson played outside in the team's base package, switching sides sporadically, but in the nickel package, Mills moved inside to slot corner while Douglas took over outside. So, basically, Mills is playing two positions, something Brooks did throughout training camp last season. 

Mills played both outside and slot corner last season, but not like he is now when it seems like he won't be leaving the field. With Mills' staying on the field to play in the slot, Malcolm Jenkins is able to stay back and be the defense's field general at safety instead of sliding down like he's done at times over the last two years. 

"I feel like it's going to be helpful," Mills said. "Not just for me, just for guys like Malcolm, a smart guy who can really play that back end and call out every single thing, whether it's run, pass or route concepts. With not really having him do the busy work and nickel and just have him be the smart, savvy vet on that back end, I think that kind of calms everybody down."

Douglas is the biggest of the bunch at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds. Mills thinks having that type of size can help the team, especially as bigger receivers become more prevalent in the league. 

"You need a big, tall, aggressive guy," Mills said. "[Douglas has] been showing flashes here and there." 

Robinson didn't know much about Mills or Douglas before joining the Eagles on a one-year deal this offseason, but the veteran of the trio has been impressed so far by his younger counterparts.  

Robinson has also been impressed by the level of competition he faced during the first day of spring practices. 

"That's definitely going to benefit me," Robinson said. "Torrey (Smith), with his speed, you get that type of speed every day in practice, it's definitely going to get you ready for the game. And then Alshon (Jeffery), with his big body and his great hands, his catching radius is definitely going to get me ready for games this season against the big guys."

The big and fast guys will be coming plenty during the 2017 season. Mills, Robinson and Douglas — for now — look like the guys who will try to stop them.