As good as offensive line coach Juan Castillo is, he can't teach height. And he can't create a massive wingspan that just isn't there.
Castillo has been given a marvelously-blessed prospect in tackle King Dunlap. The 6-8, 310-pound Dunlap was a seventh-round draft pick for the Eagles in 2008 who spent his entire rookie season on the injured reserve list with an ankle injury. Even though he entered his senior season at Auburn on the Outland Trophy watch list, Dunlap would lose his starting job and his draft stock tumbled.
But the Eagles popped in the tape from Dunlap's junior season and saw how he helped an offense that averaged 321 yards per game. And with Tra Thomas now in Jacksonville and Jon Runyan on the free agent market, Castillo has the challenge of trying to maximize Dunlap's potential. Castillo is working with the young offensive linemen now that the off-season conditioning program is underway at the NovaCare Complex.
"Pretty intense," said Dunlap of Castillo's workouts. "Especially now that it's just the younger guys, there's more one-on-one time."
Dunlap is well-aware that the landscape of the offensive line position will be much different in 2009. The Eagles did sign Stacy Andrews to a six-year deal and Stacy's brother, Shawn, will return from a back injury that sidelined him for much of the '08 campaign. It's unlikely to expect that Dunlap could turn from late-round prospect to starter in one off-season, but stranger things have happened.
"Time will tell. I'm just going to go out there and be the best player I can be," Dunlap said. "It'll be different not having (Thomas and potentially Runyan) in the meeting room. Hopefully, I can take one of their spots and have a long career like they did. I learned a lot last year from watching them play. I'm just going to take what they showed me and what I learned from them and use it in my career."
Dunlap spent all of last year's training camp honing the footwork needed to ward off speedy pass rushers. Now, Dunlap wants to refine his hand technique and get the most of those long arms. He spent all last year seeing how to do it in the film room. Making those study sessions transfer over to the field is Dunlap's challenge.
"I learned a lot just being able to still go to the meetings and sitting in on the film watching and breaking down defenses," Dunlap said. "I definitely learned a lot as far as mental status goes, now I just have to go out there and get the physical thing going. The mental advantage I still have. I just have to add the physical part to it."