Just two years ago, center Jamaal Jackson was in the middle of one of the most heated position battles in all of the NFL.
Don't remember? Just check out the August 14 edition of Sports Illustrated where Jackson was shown on the cover along with Hank Fraley.
Whether it was really a heated battle or not, it's hard to tell. Jackson signed a seven-year contract extension on the eve of the 2006 training camp which had secured his long-term future in Philadelphia.
Now, there's no question who will be the "quarterback of the offensive line" as Jackson likes to call the center position. The 6-4, 330-pound Jackson is an imposing figure in the middle of the line. Sandwiched between Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews and left guard Todd Herremans, the middle three of the Eagles' offensive line tips the scales at a total of 986 pounds. It's no wonder running back Brian Westbrook led the league in yards from scrimmage last season and the Eagles were second in the NFL with 4.7 yards per carry.
Even though Jackson was named to Sports Illustrated writer Peter King's All-Pro team in 2006 and the team's Most Underrated player by Sportsline's Pete Prisco, Jackson remains dedicated to taking his game to the next level. There was virtually no true offseason for Jackson as he spent the majority of his time engrossed in the team's conditioning program at the NovaCare Complex. The Eagles' struggles in the red zone and the fact that Donovan McNabb was sacked 44 times last season means that there is room to improve. With an emphasis on getting lighter and in better shape, Jackson expects the performance across the entire line to be more consistent and dominant like it was at the end of the 2006 season.
Behind Jackson is versatile veteran Nick Cole. Cole started one game last season at left guard in place of Herremans against the New York Giants. On the opening drive, with Cole in the game, the Eagles scored their lone touchdown of the game. A rookie free agent signing in 2006, Cole has played in 34 regular season and postseason games as both a backup center and in short-yardage situations. At a robust 350 pounds, Cole is the second-biggest lineman on the Eagles roster behind guard Max Jean-Gilles.
Rookie Mike McGlynn was a fourth-round draft pick of the Eagles out of Pittsburgh. He shifted from tackle to right guard as a senior and earned first-team All-Big East honors. McGlynn is also learning how to play the center position, a spot he focused on heavily during the rookie and selected veteran Organized Team Activities. Known for his toughness, McGlynn also was named the team's most improved player in back-to-back seasons between 2004 and 2005.
JUST A YEAR AGO ...
While Todd Herremans battled through his knee injury, Shawn Andrews dealt with an ankle problem during training camp and Jon Runyan literally busted his butt midseason, Jamaal Jackson remained healthy and started in all 16 games. The performance of the offensive line was up and down in 2007 and Jackson will admit that everyone, including him, was a part of that.
BATTLE TO WATCH: Nick Cole vs. Mike McGlynn
Jackson is the starter at center. Cole and McGlynn will battle for the backup job. Cole is an asset to the team because of his abilities in short-yardage situations and on special teams. And he filled in well on the offensive line when given the opportunity. McGlynn was primarily a tackle in college, but moved inside to guard as a senior and is being viewed as a versatile lineman who can play multiple positions.