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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In cruel twist, former Eagle Byron Maxwell one of NFL's top corners now

In cruel twist, former Eagle Byron Maxwell one of NFL's top corners now

Remember how excited you were when the Eagles signed Byron Maxwell to a huge free-agent contract in 2015? Remember how much more excited you were this past April when the team traded Maxwell and Kiko Alonso to the Dolphins to move up five spots in the first round of the NFL draft?

Well, as it turns out, Maxwell may not have been the dog most everybody in Philadelphia seemed to think he was. At least, the sixth-year veteran is having a good enough season in Miami to boast without a hint of irony that he's the best cornerback in the league, and smart writer-types like Armando Salguero for the Miami Herald are actually buying it.

Maxwell's performance this season has him so filled with confidence, he's going right after Cardinals All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson for an imaginary title.

“Man, listen, if he wants to say that, he can say that. I’m pretty sure he believes that,” Maxwell said of Peterson being the best. “Just like I believe I’m the best.

“Nothing against him, he is a great cornerback. The answer depends on who you ask.”

The answer might depend who you ask, but pretty sure the only people who would respond with "Byron Maxwell" are Maxwell himself and maybe a few people in his family. I'm not even sure Maxwell's own mother would proclaim him the best corner in the NFL.

This isn't just Philly picking a bone with Maxwell either, a free-agent bust who the team couldn't wait to unload this offseason. While his attitude was questionable and he had little chance of ever living up to the six-year contract worth $63 million the Eagles gave him in the offseason, Maxwell actually got a little bit of unfair shake here. He made terrible first and last impressions, but was okay in between.

Whether he's one of the best corners in the NFL or not though, it turns out the Eagles probably could've used him this year. Leodis McKelvin is terrible, Nolan Carroll isn't much better, Ron Brooks is on injured reserve and the defense has had to ask way too much of seventh-round draft pick Jalen Mills.

It's just another example of how the Eagles improperly prepared at the position heading into this season. Trading Maxwell and then Eric Rowe to the Patriots as well — two players that accounted for 19 starts in 2015 — left the club little room for error with regard to how they filled those jobs.

The sad thing is, both Maxwell and Rowe are probably better than anything the Eagles have, and Maxwell in particular gets to go around bragging about how he's the best in the league. It's a gut punch to be certain, and amid an Eagles season increasingly filled with them.

Eagles Injury Update: Eagles hurting at wideout vs. Washington

Eagles Injury Update: Eagles hurting at wideout vs. Washington

The Eagles are a little banged up at their skill positions heading into Sunday’s game against Washington at the Linc. 

Jordan Matthews (ankle), Ryan Mathews (knee) and Dorial Green-Beckham (abdomen) are all listed as questionable. 

Right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) is the only player who has been ruled out. 

Ryan Mathews, who has missed the past two games with an MCL sprain, was a full participant on both Wednesday and Thursday. “Today, we’re going to back [Mathews] down just a touch, so we can keep him ready to go for Sunday,” head coach Doug Pederson said on Friday morning. 

Jordan Matthews missed the Bengals game after injuring his ankle against the Packers. It was the first missed game of his career. Matthews was a limited participant on Wednesday for precautionary reasons, according to Pederson. 

“[Matthews] was great on Thursday and no setbacks,” Pederson said. “He made it through practice. We look forward to having him a good day again today.”

It seems a little more likely that Matthews and Mathews will be able to play on Sunday than Green-Beckham. 

Green-Beckham, who hurt his mid-section during the loss to the Bengals, wasn't able to practice on Wednesday or Thursday. Still, earlier in the week, Pederson said he thought DGB would be able to play this weekend. 

“He’s still on that path,” Pederson said Friday. “He worked yesterday a little bit. It’s still sore. I want to see where he’s going to be today before making a full decision on him. I don’t want to risk having a guy out there that’s not 100 percent.”

With Green-Beckham and Matthews banged up, it looks like the Eagles will go into this game with just three fully healthy wide receivers – Nelson Agholor, Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner.

Pederson said there’s no immediate plan to sign another receiver to the 53-man roster. 

So what’s the plan at wideout? The same thing the Eagles did last week. 

“Well, I’ll probably lean more on the tight ends,” Pederson said. “Trey [Burton] has kind of taken that role the last couple of weeks. Trey Burton and Zach [Ertz] and Brent [Celek]. That’d be the direction we’d go.”