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Offensive Line Forced To Adjust

Posted Mar 30, 2012

King Dunlap was excited about being the "sixth man," about being "one play away" from a starting role after he signed a one-year contract to return to the Eagles ...

Everything changed in a hurry on Friday for the Eagles offensive line. First there was the news that King Dunlap, a reliable backup for four seasons, had signed a one-year contract to return to the team, to be the "swing" tackle backing up Jason Peters and Todd Herremans.

A few hours later, the news was a lot darker. Peters, the Pro Bowl left tackle, has suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and will undergo surgery on April 2.

There is no way to minimize this injury in the sense that the Eagles lose a premier, dominating player. Peters has been everything the Eagles hoped he would be when they traded with Buffalo in 2009. He is star talent all the way, and in 2011 enjoyed perhaps his best NFL season.

Now, the Eagles aren't likely to have Peters on the field for all of 2012. They have to adjust, and they have to do so convincingly. It certainly helps that Howard Mudd returns for his second season here, and there is no better offensive line coach in the league.

It helps that Dunlap can line up at left tackle and play well in front of the left-handed Michael Vick, or that Todd Herremans could move from Vick's blind side to the left side, with Dunlap at right tackle.

There aren't a lot of available options, it appears, in free agency, but if the Eagles feel like they need to add a veteran, they have some space within the salary cap. And, of course, the draft is ahead, and the Eagles have the 15th selection in a first round in which as many as five offensive tackles could be taken.

Dunlap, then, becomes incredibly important in the big picture here. He had not a lot of activity in free agency and was hoping to land a starting job elsewhere. He is back in Philadelphia and may have that chance, anyway.

"Last year was a learning process for all of us with Howard Mudd here and we a rough patch with a lockout and no OTAs and not having that extra time to get to work and know each other," said Dunlap. "We got it together in the middle to the end of season and now having a full offseason together is going to make a big difference. The sky is the limit for us."

The Eagles had made keeping some continuity along the offensive line a priority in this offseason. They kept left guard Evan Mathis after he attracted some interest in free agency. They brought back Dunlap, who has started seven games in the last two seasons. They brought in veterans Mike Gibson and Steve Vallos to add depth from guard to guard.

Which way do they go minus Peters? If there is any kind of break with this kind of news, it's that the Eagles still have the means to make moves to address left tackle. Maybe they won't have a player of Peters' caliber over there, but maybe they will. They have three huge draft picks among the top 51, and it certainly won't be a surprise if one of those players is a left tackle. Then again, what about somebody like Marcus McNeil in free agency? Demetrius Bell? Both have talent, but both have some injury concerns.

The Eagles will get it right. They certainly do have a challenge, but they have some options. It's just that the news of Peters' injury is a downer for an offensive line that appeared to have every piece in place for a great, great season ahead.

They can still have that. Correction: They will still have that with Mudd leading the way. The shame is that their best player, and the best left tackle in the game, won't be part of the fun.

"I've always been ready to go in, ready to play as the sixth man of the offensive line," said Dunlap. "You have to be ready at all times. You never know what is going to happen on any given play."

Or on any given day in the 12-month NFL season.

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