How Great Is Eagles Need at Offensive Line?

How Great Is Eagles Need at Offensive Line?

In retrospect, the Eagles’ 2012 season was over before it
ever got started. It was right around this time last year when they were hit
with the bad news that would destroy them.

All-world left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles
tendon during a private workout last March, and again while trying to get
around his house three weeks later. The front office went into scramble mode, quickly
re-signing King Dunlap, then chasing down the top free agent available in
Demetress Bell. Everyone prayed for the best.

If only replacing Peters were that easy. It was damaging
enough to the Birds’ cause that the injury happened to a player who many
analysts were describing as the best offensive lineman in football, but also at
one of the toughest positions to fill no less. More than half of the starting
left tackles
in the NFL are first-round draft picks.

Dunlap and Bell were (somewhat predictably) nothing short of
terrible, and the absence of Peters had a domino effect on the rest of the
line. After making a strong transition to right tackle a year earlier, Todd
Herremans was suddenly called upon to anchor the unit, a role in which he struggled. Sophomore
Danny Watkins looked lost next to him, and from the very beginning it appeared as though the
problems were going to reverberate down the line to Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis,
and obviously back to the Dunlap/Bell platoon.

But that’s only part of the story. Kelce suffered a torn MCL
in Week 2 against the Ravens, opening another enormous hole at center, and if
all of that wasn’t enough, Herremans dislocated a bone in his foot in Week 9 at
New Orleans. Factor in Watkins got beat out for his job by street-free agent
Jake Scott, and virtually the entire thing was a mess.

We all remember what the end result was. Michael Vick was
punished until he couldn’t take no more, and the Eagles’ once-explosive offense
never got off the ground.

You can preach about depth all you want – this was an
impossible situation for any organization. That being said, most fans don’t care
about excuses true or otherwise, they just want the problem fixed.

The question is how
much actually needs fixing?

For starters, don’t let the rest of the line play reflect
poorly on Mathis. Despite everything going on around him, he was a rock, to the
point where many observers felt he was worthy of a trip to Honolulu. He signed
a five-year pact last offseason, so left guard at least seems to be solidified
for awhile.

Let’s not forget that three of these guys are coming back,
either. Herremans’ break was rare, but there is no indication that it was
anything he won’t make a full recovery from, and like Mathis, he’s under contract
through 2016. Knee injuries such as the one Kelce suffered are always
concerning for linemen, but he’s only 25 and should still be considered one of
the franchise’s building blocks.

Most important, Peters’ recovery sounds like it’s going
well. He was already up and running around toward the end of last season, and
may have even tried to jump back into the lineup had there been anything left
to play for down the stretch. Chip Kelly told reporters last week that Peters
will participate in the Eagles’ first practice in April.

Now the bad

That’s all well and good, but pessimists would point out
that this is a 328-lbs., 31-year-old man trying to come back from multiple
surgeries on his Achilles tendon. The notion Peters will ever be “the best”
again is one nobody should hold too tight, and we’ll have to wait and see in
September what he can do on a football field.

Peters is undoubtedly the left tackle going into this season,
but the team needs to begin at least considering a future without him. His
contract expires in two more seasons, and Achilles or no, he’ll be in or
nearing the downside of his career. An extension isn’t out of the question yet,
but the Eagles can’t afford to find themselves without a left tackle a year or two down the
road.

They need to find a solution at right guard as well. There is a faint sliver of hope Watkins can rebound – after all,
the 2011 first-round pick didn’t have a terrible rookie season. With former offensive-line coach Howard
Mudd’s complicated zone-blocking scheme out of the equation, it’s plausible
Watkins could bounce back under a new system and coaching staff. He’ll turn 29
in November already, so it’s tempting to view him as nothing more than a sunk
cost (which he may be), but change could be positive for him.

If the Eagles were able to acquire another tackle – through the draft being
a distinct possibility, but by whatever means – Herremans could always slide over. He
played left guard for the first six years he was in the league.

Outlook

Obviously the Eagles can’t rely on Watkins having any value
to the club beyond depth, and while Peters is still the man for now, the front
office must at least consider making other arrangements there. However, it wasn’t
all that long ago when this was an up-and-coming unit, in fact probably one of
the better offensive lines in the NFL.

In the second half of 2011, Peters and Mathis were
absolutely dominating on the left side, Kelce was developing into a fine, young
center, and Herremans was effective at right tackle with a little assistance
from tight ends and backs. Even Watkins showed some promise while taking his
lumps. The bench is not entirely devoid of prospects, either – rookie fifth
rounder Dennis Kelly looked like he might be able to play a little bit once he was
inserted at right tackle.

It’s an area the Eagles need to and will address, but not
one that needs a total overhaul. Some better luck in the health department,
along with some relatively full recoveries, and they are no more than one piece
away from returning to form in 2013.

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More NFL Notes: Texans star WR DeAndre Hopkins not at training camp

More NFL Notes: Texans star WR DeAndre Hopkins not at training camp

HOUSTON -- Houston Texans star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins did not report to training camp Saturday.

Entering his fourth pro season, Hopkins is holding out for a new contract. He is scheduled to make $1 million in salary in the final season of his rookie contract, though the Texans have picked up his fifth-year option.

Hopkins can be fined up to $40,000 for every day he misses camp.

He comes off a huge season with 111 receptions, 1,521 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns despite inconsistency at quarterback and few other receiving options on the Texans.

Houston general manager Rick Smith said in a statement: "We are disappointed DeAndre has elected not to report to training camp with the rest of his teammates. He has expressed his position regarding his contract status, and we have been clear with both he and his representatives of ours. Our focus is on the 2016 season and all of our collective efforts and attention will be centered on that endeavor."

Hopkins was the 27th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Clemson. He has started all 48 games in his career, making 239 catches for 3,533 yards and 19 touchdowns. He went to the Pro Bowl last season.

49ers: Offensive lineman Anthony Davis reinstated by NFL
SAN FRANCISCO -- Right tackle Anthony Davis was reinstated by the NFL on Saturday after an 11-month retirement that he planned to come back from all along.

The San Francisco 49ers made the announcement ahead of their first day of training camp Sunday under new coach Chip Kelly.

Davis was the 49ers' first-round draft choice, the 11th overall pick, in the 2010 draft out of Rutgers. He was affected by a concussion late in the 2014 season.

On June 5, 2015, at age 25, Davis announced his retirement in another surprising offseason departure last year for the 49ers. He became the fourth prominent San Francisco player to retire in a three-month span, joining linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland and defensive end Justin Smith. The announcement came four days before the team's mandatory June minicamp.

Also Saturday, San Francisco placed nose tackle Ian Williams on the reserve/non-football injury list (see full story).

Bears: LB Willie Young signs to 2-year extension
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears signed outside linebacker Willie Young to a two-year contract extension on Saturday.

Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

The 30-year-old Young signed with the Bears two years ago after spending his first four seasons with division-rival Detroit. He had a career-high 10 sacks that year before tearing his Achilles tendon in December, but bounced back to play in 15 games with 6 1/2 sacks last season.

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Washington Nationals have acquired All-Star closer Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates for Melancon, who supplants Jonathan Papelbon as Washington's closer.

Melancon, a 31-year-old right-hander, has 30 saves and a 1.51 ERA this season. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series.

Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outing. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.

Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft (see full story).

GIANTS: Pence back after 48-game absence
SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants right fielder Hunter Pence was activated Saturday and in the starting lineup against the Nationals after missing 48 games with a strained right hamstring that required surgery.

San Francisco hopes Pence will bring some much-needed life to a club that had lost 11 of 13 since the All-Star break.

Newly acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez made his first start since joining the team in a trade from Minnesota on Thursday and having his first at-bat Friday. Nunez was playing shortstop Saturday because Brandon Crawford, who lined into a bases-loaded triple play during Friday's 4-1 loss, had a sore left hand from a swing early in the game.

Center fielder Denard Span also was out of the lineup because of a tender quadriceps from a collision at home plate Friday.

The Giants designated for assignment infielder Ramiro Pena to clear roster room for Pence's return.  

MARINERS: Karns to DL, Martin recalled
CHICAGO -- The Seattle Mariners have placed right-hander Nathan Karns on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain a day after he was roughed up in a relief appearance.

Right-hander Cody Martin was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma before Saturday's game against the Cubs.

Chicago scored five runs in two innings off Karns in Friday's 12-1 romp. He gave up three hits, walked three and allowed a home run to David Ross.

Karns began the season as a starter, but was moved to the bullpen in June. He has a 5.15 ERA.

Martin has appeared in two games and thrown four innings for Seattle this season, allowing one run and five hits.

Brian Dawkins excited for scout role with Eagles, hopes it leads to something 'bigger'

Brian Dawkins excited for scout role with Eagles, hopes it leads to something 'bigger'

This is how much of a kinship Brian Dawkins has with the game of football.

And it won’t surprise anybody.

“I was in Orlando with my family and we’re passing by a football field, me and my brother in law, to go to the gym,” Dawkins said. “There’s nobody in the stadium. But as I passed by, there’s a certain comfort I have when I see football fields.”

That connection, that bond, to the game he loves and the team he loves has ultimately brought Dawkins back to Philadelphia, where from 1996 through 2008 he firmly established himself as one of the greatest Eagles of all-time.

The Eagles announced Saturday morning that eight years after he was allowed to leave for Denver as a free agent, Dawkins has rejoined the franchise to work in the scouting department (see story).

Dawkins’ initially joins the Eagles' scouting team as part of the NFL’s Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship, a new program aimed at introducing former players to the world of player personnel and the duties of an NFL scout.

As of now, Dawkins is committed to working with the Eagles through the draft in April.

But both Dawkins and Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said this relationship could evolve into a permanent one. And a very important one.

“I’m very excited about this opportunity, I really am,” Dawkins said. “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while and it just so happened we were able to talk about it and get something done with it.”

Dawkins retired after the 2011 season, his third year in Denver. He worked for ESPN from the fall of 2012 through this past football season. He said ESPN did not renew his contract after last year, which opened up the door for him to explore a return to the NFL.

“I enjoyed my time there, I really did,” he said. “But it was one of those things where everything fell into place for me to have more freedom to do other things, and this was that opportunity and it presented itself and I jumped on it and we’re rolling with a fluid situation.

“This is something that I’ve been thinking for a while. I didn’t know it would come to fruition this fast, but here it is. And sometimes, you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone to really see what you can achieve. And so this is something that I’m really looking forward to, to see if this will move to something even bigger.”

Dawkins is with the Eagles at training camp this week, but he will be based for the time being in Denver, where he’s lived since signing with the Broncos and where his daughter is still in high school.

Roseman, very interestingly, revealed on Saturday morning that he has used Dawkins as an informal player personnel consultant, both when he was general manager through 2014 and again since being re-instated in a similar role with a new title by owner Jeff Lurie after Chip Kelly’s firing.

“I’ve (been) always trying to get him here because he’s got such a bright future, he’s got such a great football mind and a great presence and leadership ability, which translates to the front office,” Roseman said Saturday.

“I always think about (Hall of Fame tight end and Ravens general manager) Ozzie Newsome and how he made that transition, and then talking to (Dawkins) during the coaching search, as we were going into the offseason about the team.

“And then he did more evaluations this year for the draft and (we) continued to try to find the right role for him that he felt comfortable with and when this came along it was a perfect transition for him, and we couldn’t be more excited to have him in the building and helping us as we move forward here.”

Dawkins was a first-team all-pro four times and a Pro Bowler seven times with the Eagles. He made two more Pro Bowls with the Broncos.

It's interesting that the Eagles’ safeties the last time they won a playoff game – 2008 – are now back with the team.

Quintin Mikell, who spent the 2003 through 2010 seasons with the Eagles and made the Pro Bowl in 2009, was a coaching intern last year and currently serves as director of player engagement.

Dawkins said evaluating players comes naturally to him.

“I love it,” he said. “When you get up there in age playing the game, you see young guys come in and you’re hoping they can help the team win that year, so you start to evaluate, even back then.

“So now that I’m out of the game I just take those things that I learned then and apply them now. Evaluating guys and seeing if they can help this team going forward.”

Asked what he wants to accomplish in this role, Dawkins looked up at the NovaCare Complex 50 feet away and spoke in that hyper-intense Dawk whisper we all know so well.

“To bring this place back to someplace when we played, when I played here,” he said. “The energy was completely different. There were expectations every year with what we were going to do, and I’m pretty sure the players would tell you the exact same thing. They want to get this thing back there as well.

“This is a place I feel comfortable. Not just this organization, but the football field, watching tape, having those conversations, I feel comfortable doing those things.”

But Dawkins said he ultimately doesn’t want to limit himself to scouting.

“I’m trying to grasp the whole gamut of football operations, how a team is run,” he said. “So I’m learning about the scouting part of it, but sometimes it’s either you have an eye or you don’t, and I’ve been blessed to have an eye to be able to see talent, so if I can help in that respect I’d love to that, but I also want to learn everything I can about running a football team.”

Roseman and Dawkins both hinted at a major role for Dawkins in the organization moving forward.

Could he one day be the general manager? A team vice president?

Don’t bet against it.

“He’s going to start with scouting and work with Joe (Douglas, vice president of player personnel) and his guys because he’s done that and he’s written evaluations for us,” Roseman said.

“But we don’t want to limit him to that. His ability to communicate to the players … everything that we’re doing that’s different than when he was a player from a strength and conditioning standpoint, from a sports science standpoint, his observations on the team as a whole.

“We’re really going to drop him into a bunch of areas that he’s interested in, but it starts with the scouting department.”

Beyond his individual accomplishments, Dawk played for the Eagles during the most successful period in modern franchise history.

The Eagles have won 19 playoff games, and Dawkins was on the field for 10 of them.

More than half.

“He’s been part of championship-caliber teams, so he understands about what that looks like and the energy and enthusiasm that that has, and he’s been in a defense simiar to this, so he knows the responsibilities,” Roseman said.

“He’s also looking at it from a guy who played the position. When he’s watching DBs … when you sit with him and watch him watch safety play, he’s looking for different things than maybe we are maybe as a scouting staff or guys who maybe never played the position.

“He’s able to come into the meetings and impart what he saw, and that helps all of us as we’re evlauating guys and that’s the biggest part of it for all of us. To be able to pick his brain.”

Where will this ultimately lead? Dawkins just smiles and says he has big plans. Bigger than just working in scouring.

“Bigger is bigger,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “Bigger is bigger. I don’t know what bigger is. I just know bigger is not where I’m standing right now.

“So whatever bigger is, that’s what we’re shooting for.”