In the locker room after the Eagles lost to the Giants back on Sept. 30, 2007, Winston Justice stood in the visitors locker room at Giants Stadium and owned up to his mistakes. Osi Umenyiora had six sacks and the Giants had 12 as an entire team as Justice started at left tackle for an injured Tra Thomas. He didn't hide from the media. He accepted blame for his mistakes that night.
Exactly three months later, Justice played most of the game at right tackle in a season-ending win over the Bills. And he played pretty well. However, most fans didn't notice since the Eagles were out of the playoff hunt.
When Justice was drafted in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, he was tabbed as the future for when Tra Thomas would either sign with another team or retire. But when Thomas signed with Jacksonville in the off-season, the Eagles traded for a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle in Jason Peters. The right tackle spot was expected to be filled by Shawn Andrews. But with Andrews sidelined for the entirety of training camp, Justice has been provided an opportunity to jump-start his career. He's taken almost all of the first-team reps at right tackle. So far, Justice has been up to the task. He's much more imposing physically. He's added thickness and power in his arms. His base is much stronger.
The change is Justice's performance started with realizing what it took play in the NFL. The 6-6, 320-pound Justice won a national championship at USC and blocked for three Heisman Trophy winners. USC was simply on a different level compared to most teams. That's not the case in the NFL.
"I think I grew up a lot mentally. I came out early and I was playing in the NFL when I was 20. I needed to grow up physically and mentally," Justice said. "I didn't know the actual demands, what it takes to be an NFL lineman. I think I'm getting that now and just need to take more strides and God willing I'll get to show that on the field."
Justice spent this off-season in Philadelphia training with Juan Castillo instead of going back home to Florida and California. He's also been shaped in the past few years by his marriage to his wife, Dania, and the birth of his son, Selah.
"That helped me grow up too," Justice said. "There are a lot of things required of being a husband as much as being a father. When you have kids, you have to be selfless."
Now, Justice has to take what he's done in training camp and carry it over to the preseason. If Shawn Andrews can't go in the season opener because of his back injury, can the Eagles trust Justice to be the starter? Justice isn't about to think that far ahead.
"The thing I focus on is improving every day," Justice said. "The only thing I listen to is my coaches and Juan. Juan's not going to give you too much praise. He's always going to give you something to work on. That's how I approach it, with a sense of urgency."
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 12:44 a.m., August 11