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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End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: The expansion draft, who to protect and best guesses at Vegas' selection.

Dougherty
We have and will continue to discuss in detail the entry draft, but we haven't talked much about the June 21 expansion draft. That's what we're doing today.

The expansion draft will affect the Flyers' plans this summer because they will be losing a player to Vegas, but the impact will be a minimum. They will not lose any core pieces.

How the expansion draft works: Teams have two options in protecting players. They can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. The expectation is the Flyers will protect seven forwards, three D-men and a goalie.

There are six forwards and two defensemen who are obvious protections: Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Valtteri Filppula, Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are exempt.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will have decisions to make on who the seventh forward and third defenseman he protects. Then there is the goalie protection.

That leaves forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nick Cousins, Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Matt Read, Jordan Weal and Dale Weise; and defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning.

Losing any of those six forwards would not be major blows to the Flyers. Now on the blue line, it gets interesting. My prediction is that the Flyers will choose to protect Manning with the hope Vegas takes MacDonald's contract.

Probably isn't going to happen.

Of the goalies, I don't think Vegas will have any interest in Anthony Stolarz, especially since he tore his right MCL in April. So that should cut the question here. That would mean the Flyers protect Michal Neuvirth, whom they signed to a two-year extension.

So what is my best guess at who Vegas plucks from the Flyers?

I think it will be a toss-up between Laughton and Raffl. I suspect the Flyers will re-sign Weal before the draft and then protect him, or have a verbal understanding they'll sign him after the expansion draft. Both parties appeared interested in him coming back.

My pick? Let's go with Laughton, a former first-round pick who turns 23 on Tuesday.

Laughton hasn't panned out as the Flyers hoped. He spent last season in Lehigh Valley and both Leier and Weal earned call-ups over him. I think that is a telling sign here.

So I'm predicting Laughton going to Vegas, where a change of scenery helps him out and the Golden Knights get a young forward that can slot into a third- or fourth-line role and still has upside.

Hall
There's a lot to the expansion draft — tons of possibilities and things can still change before June 21 that could impact the Flyers' decisions.

Albeit unlikely, Steve Mason could re-sign, which would obviously affect the Flyers' protection plan at goalie. Assuming that doesn't happen, I think the Flyers protect Neuvirth, especially considering Stolarz's health is in question this offseason and he may not be the true goalie of the future. Stolarz is also a pending restricted free agent, so he'll have to receive his qualifying offer from the Flyers before the expansion draft.

Now, let's say the Flyers go with the seven-forward, three-defensemen approach.

The blueliners are pretty clear: Gostisbehere and Gudas will be protected, as it comes down to MacDonald and Manning. I feel the organization thinks a bit more of MacDonald and his versatility compared to Manning, whose two-year deal last summer was likely strategic on the Flyers' part in planning for this expansion draft.

As for the forwards, Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Filppula and Couturier are staying put. I believe Weal will be re-signed and protected.

Ultimately, I could see Raffl being Vegas' choice. At 28 years old, he's not super young or inexperienced, but also not old by any means, and the winger can play all four lines because of a well-rounded game that complements different styles.

Raffl's injuries last season (abdominal, knee) may cause red flags. At the same time, the Golden Knights should be intrigued by the two seasons prior in which Raffl played all 82 games of 2015-16 (and was a plus-9) after scoring a career-high 21 goals in 2014-15.

A loss of Raffl wouldn't be ideal, but not as damaging given the Flyers appear to be gaining more depth and youth at forward.

Paone
June 21's expansion draft will be the biggest wild card of the NHL summer. And that's not just some corny pun because it involves an expansion team from Vegas.

It'll be the first piece of player movement during the offseason, coming before the entry draft and free agency. But since it will be the first piece of player movement of the offseason, it will help mold how the Flyers and the rest of the teams around the league approach their summers.

None of the Flyers' "big guns" will be on the move and my gut tells me the Flyers will be protecting Neuvirth as they want him to shoulder the starting load this coming season.

We don't know exactly what Vegas is looking for in the expansion draft because general manager George McPhee is keeping that close to the vest. But if I'm the Golden Knights' GM, youth is at the top of my wish list.

That leaves three Flyers to stick out in my mind — Weal (25), Cousins (turns 24 in June) and Laughton (turns 23 on Tuesday).

After the sparkplug Weal was down the stretch with eight goals and four assists in 23 games, the Flyers should reach a new deal with the UFA and keep him in Philadelphia.

That leaves Cousins and Laughton.

My instinct tells me Vegas will gamble (sorry, still getting used to this whole Vegas having a team thing) on Laughton, a former first-round pick.

There's a reason he was a first-rounder in 2012. The guy can play, even if he hasn't shown it consistently in Philadelphia. But remember he's been yanked back and forth between the AHL and NHL on numerous occasions and when he's been with the big club, he's either been in the press box as a scratch or been tossed back and forth between center and wing. That constant instability in both level and position can be detrimental to a young player. Vegas would give Laughton a fresh start, a fresh home and some fresh stability.

Plus, I know there are only so many protections to go around, but Cousins is a guy the Flyers should want to keep around. Just 16 points (six points, 10 assists) in 60 games isn't good enough offensively, but not many Flyers were great offensively last season. Everyone needs to be better there. But Cousins has that pest intangible that can be so effective, especially in the rugged Metropolitan Division, where basically every game is a rivalry game. It's a good quality to have.

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Skidding Phils take on veteran Bronson Arroyo

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Skidding Phils take on veteran Bronson Arroyo

Phillies (16-30) vs. Reds (23-24)
4:05 p.m. on TCN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Tim Adleman and the Reds shut down the Phillies in Friday night's series opener, dealing the Phillies a 5-2 defeat. It was the Phillies' 21st loss in 26 games (see full story).

Jerad Eickhoff takes the ball for the Phillies on Saturday, trying to get both the team and his own season back on track. Veteran Bronson Arroyo takes the start for the Reds.

Here are five things to know for the game:

1. Worst in baseball
The loss on Friday paired with the Marlins' win over the Angels gave the Phillies sole possession of the worst record in baseball. 

The loss to the Reds was enough to make manager Pete Mackanin call a team meeting with the Phillies hitting a definitive low at 16-30. The 2016 squad didn't fall 14 games under .500 for the first time until Sept. 2. The Phillies are 5-18 in May and have scored 86 runs compared to 131 by opponents. 

Many of the games recently haven't even been close. Six of the losses this month were by at least five runs. The team brought the tying run to the plate on Friday, but it was behind 5-0 and had just one hit going into the ninth. 

The offense has gone silent in the last six games, scoring no more than two runs each time out. In five of their last six, the Phillies have faced a starter with an ERA above 5.00 who proceeded to throw at least five innings and give up one run or fewer. Adleman was the latest to victimize the Phils (see story).

The bright side? The upcoming schedule is much more palatable for the squad. After the Reds, the Phillies face the Marlins, Giants and Braves for 10 games. Those three teams have a combined record of 57-85 this year and the Phillies went 5-0 against the Marlins and Braves in April.

2. 10th time's the charm?
Nine starts into his second full MLB season, Eickhoff hasn't found the right stuff ... or a win. In 51 2/3 innings, he's 0-5 with 4.70 ERA. 

Why the slow start? First off, Eickhoff had some control issues. He's gone from a more than palatable 1.9 to a less stellar 3.1 walks per nine innings. Beyond dishing out free passes, he has a 1.43 WHIP, up from 1.16 last season. Still, his 3.77 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) indicates he shouldn't have struggled quite this much. 

Looking further into the numbers, Eickhoff has allowed more infield and bunt hits this season than he did on a rate basis last year. He's induced less weak contact, which could be part of his issue. Still, he's thrown 300 MLB innings over 50 starts and has a 3.66 ERA. It's hard to believe his true talent level isn't closer to his 3.65 ERA over 197 1/3 innings last year than his out-of-character 4.70 mark this season.

He faced the Reds just once before, taking a loss in the Phillies' second game of the year. It seems a while ago now, but Eickhoff started the year with three quality starts, including a two-run, six-strikeout game over 6 2/3 in Cincinnati. The Reds' batters have four extra-base hits against him and he's allowed home runs to Joey Votto and Scooter Gennett. Gennett's HR came as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.

3. Arroyo back in action
You're forgiven if you didn't think Arroyo was still in baseball. He was injured and didn't pitch in either the 2015 or 2016 season. Despite being a non-entity on the field, he was still traded twice, going from the Diamondbacks to the Braves to the Dodgers, who immediately released him. 

At 40 years old, Arroyo is easily hittable now. The right-hander never threw very hard but now tops out at 87 mph, averaging 83-84 with his fastball. Like many soft-tossers, he constantly uses his off-speed stuff. He's heavily reliant on his curveball and slider, both of which are in the 70s. 

Hitters against Arroyo have been home run happy with 15 dingers this year over just 46 2/3 innings. Those 2.9 HR per nine innings are near three times as many as Eickhoff, who has struggled with the long ball at times over the past few seasons. The 15 home runs play a large part in his 6.75 ERA as batters hit plenty of flyballs vs. Arroyo. It doesn't help that he has a 1.479 WHIP. 

Among current Phillies, only Freddy Galvis (1 for 7) and Andres Blanco (1 for 3) have faced him. His career against the Phillies dates all the way back to three starts in 2000. Over 14 games (13 starts), he's 4-7 with a 5.14 ERA in 77 innings against the Phils. He's just the second starter after Bartolo Colon to pitch at Citizens Bank Park this season that also faced the Phillies at Veterans Stadium.

Arroyo is fourth among active pitchers in starts and fifth in innings pitched. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Moved into the leadoff spot on Friday, Odubel Herrera put together a few strong at-bats, finally coming through with a hit in the ninth inning to snap an 0-for-13 stretch.

Reds: Scott Schebler hit his 14th home run of the season off Aaron Nola in the second inning Friday. In just his third season, Schebler had just 12 homers in his career before 2017.

5. This and that
• Howie Kendrick made his third rehab appearance in Triple A Lehigh Valley Friday, going 1 for 4. He played all nine innings in left field. The IronPigs won, 5-4, with Nick Williams hitting a home run. Williams, J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro each had two-hit nights.

• The Phillies haven't won a season series vs. the Reds since 2012 (10-18 since the start of 2013). However, the Reds are 16-30 at CBP and haven't won a series in Philadelphia since Aug. 2006.

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, on April 18 this year, Arroyo became the first Reds pitcher older than 40 to win a start since Boom-Boom Beck beat the Phillies, 8-1, on May 31, 1945.

• The Reds are the only team in baseball with four hitters (Votto, Schebler, Eugenio Suarez and Adam Duvall) who have at least 10 home runs.