The effort was admirable. Going out on the first day of free agency and making sure Stacy Andrews was secured, and then following that up with a huge trade to acquire Jason Peters served notice that the Eagles believed that improving the offensive line was as high a priority as any in the off-season.
In a neat manipulation of the roster and an aggressive dent of the salary-cap funds, the Eagles made over the offensive line in a matter of a couple of months. Just like that -- a snap of the fingers in NFL terms -- the Eagles went from having an aging, fraying-at-the-edges line to one that offers the kind of size, athletic ability and potential that just doesn't come around very often.
So ... So, now what? Is there time to get every piece in place, on the same page, working together, and cohesive enough to play well against a Carolina Panthers front seven that is as good as any in the game when the regular season begins on September 13? There are certainly some obstacles, beginning with the health of Andrews, who is recovering from his severe knee injury suffered last season while a member of the Cincinnati Bengals. Andrews was a limited participant in the spring drills and he is likely to be limited during part of training camp. Can he come back and play at a high level in an NFL game less than nine months after having reconstructive knee surgery to repair a torn ACL?
That's one question. Another is establishing continuity with all the new faces in new places up front. Peters is a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle and he comes with a huge level of expectation, but he also has to assimilate into Juan Castillo's way of doing things. Peters looked the part in the spring and should have few problems once the pads go on and the hitting is live. He is huge, he is athletic and he is exactly what the Eagles wanted in their search for a dominating left tackle.
While the Eagles work Peters in at left tackle, they are keeping their eye on the right tackle spot, too. After a terrific run at right guard, Shawn Andrews slides from there to the tackle spot, his natural position. Andrews endured a tough 2008 campaign, suffering from a bout of depression and then a back injury that ultimately limited him to two games of action.
Healthy and happy now, Andrews wants to make a name for himself at right tackle. He has all the tools -- great feet, strength, balance and the know-how of taking away the edge pass rusher. Andrews played right tackle during the final game of the 2006 season and he dominated Atlanta's John Abraham. It was a preview, hopefully, of what is to come.
The job now belongs to Andrews, who will be tested from the very start of training camp as the Eagles throw all kinds of good, speedy and powerful pass rushers at him in practice.
Center Jamaal Jackson and left guard Todd Herremans are the only two pieces of the offensive line puzzle still in place from the NFC Championship Game, and they are solid, durable and effective players inside.
Actually, the Eagles enter training camp feeling like they have more proven depth than they have had in years. Guards Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole saw valuable time last season and both played well replacing Andrews. Jean-Gilles can play either guard spot, and Cole can play all three interior positions, so they give the Eagles some flexibility.
The other two or three roster spots along the offensive line are up for grabs, and players like Winston Justice, Mike McGlynn and a slew of draft picks from 2008 and 2009 are present to make sure it is a competitive situation.
Truly, though, the key battle is against the clock. The Eagles have as much talent as they have ever had up front. Can all the pieces come together in the next seven-plus weeks? Castillo is a hard-driving, energetic coach who loves the challenge ahead. He knows he has talent here. He knows he doesn't have a lot of time, but Castillo will make the most of practice and of the four preseason games to make this line the best it can be early in the season, with the goal of improving every week.
Since that loss to Arizona in the NFC Championship Game, the Eagles made every effort possible to get the line in order. They succeeded in making the moves they wanted to make. Now comes another hard part: Refining the talent, getting each piece working together and making sure the offense has its line air tight for the opener in Carolina.