The most difficult season of his NFL career behind him, Shawn Andrews speaks of approaching 2009 with a "new attitude" and of his person as a "new being." Andrews missed training camp as he deal with a bout of personal depression, and then played in only two regular-season games before suffering a back injury that ended up sidelining him for the remainder of the year.
A two-time Pro Bowl right guard, and considered one of the best linemen in the NFL, Andrews is still recovering from surgery he had in October to correct a herniated disc in his back that he suffered in the second quarter of the game in Dallas. The Eagles kept Andrews on the active roster, hoping that perhaps he could return to the field if the Eagles advanced to Super Bowl 43.
Last week, prior to the NFC Championship Game in Arizona, Andrews stepped up his practice routine just a little bit, engaging in some physical contact. It was encouraging, for sure, but Andrews still seemed a long shot to make it back to the field even for the Super Bowl.
Now, of course, that question is moot. A larger one is this: How much can the Eagles count on Andrews for 2009? Is he right mentally? Does he love the game of football? Is he committed to his work? Is he going to be OK physically?
Questions, questions. Andrews certainly said all the right things on Monday as the team cleaned out its lockers at the NovaCare Complex. He said, in a nutshell, that he is approaching next season in the right frame of mind and will be ready to get back on the field and dominate.
"I'm very excited about where I feel like I'm going to be and where I'm going to get myself to. I have a whole new attitude about everything right now, so it's going to be a brand-new attitude and a brand-new me," said Andrews.
Andrews is, obviously, a central figure to the Eagles' plans up front. He is a star at guard at this level and, given the time to prepare and in right frame of mind, would probably be a standout at either tackle spot. Andrews is that good, that rare an athlete. He has a big body, a long reach and dancer's feet. You are going to hear a lot of speculation that Andrews could be moved out to tackle should either -- or both -- Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan move on as unrestricted free agents. Some believe that was the long-term goal the Eagles had in mind for Andrews, anyway, when they drafted him in 2004.
Understand this: No definitive plans have been made. Offensive line is going to be an area the Eagles must look at very closely, and they need to determine just how much they can rely on Andrews. With two first-round draft picks, an extra fifth-round pick and an extra sixth-round pick, the Eagles are going to have 10 selections in April. They have room under the cap.
They also have some challenging questions to answer, and the state of the offensive line is a large one.
First, though, Andrews has to answer his own questions. He battled those personal issues all year and missed valuable time in the spring and summer working with his linemates. Andrews never got into the tip-top shape needed to play at his best this season.
After Andrews was sidelined, the Eagles found that Max Jean-Gilles could handle the load at right guard. But then Jean-Gilles suffered a broken fibula and Nick Cole took over and played well at right guard. The Eagles learned they had some depth at the guard spots, a good thing.
What they don't know, though, is how they can make the line better across the board. Both Thomas and Runyan are Eagles forever and both played as savvy veteran tackles play. But the Eagles also had to give each tackle help at times with a tight end or a back chipping on a pass rusher, something most teams do. Keeping a potential receiver or two in on passing plays took a target away from Donovan McNabb.
In this equation, there is more than just Andrews' performance to predict. The Eagles either need to also brink back Thomas and Runyan, or they need to have the right replacements ready to go. Having McNabb, for example, worrying about his blindside for the first time in his career is not the way the Eagles want to head into the season. Thomas has always been there for McNabb and a certain trust develops between a quarterback and his left tackle. After 10 seasons, McNabb and Thomas are extremely close that way.
Anyway, back to Andrews. His absence this season -- both in training camp and in the regular season -- was a big disappointment. Andrews has been the anchor of the line since 2005 when he was, in his first year as a starter after missing his rookie season with an injury, voted as a first alternate to the Pro Bowl. Think how much different the season could have gone with Andrews in at right guard, especially in some critical short-yardage situations. Running behind Andrews became almost a sure thing in years past. Suddenly, he wasn't there and the Eagles had a lot of trouble running right at certain points of the season.
What is ahead for Andrews? For the offensive line? A lot of things have to go right for all the pieces to fit the way the Eagles need them to fit in 2009.
"First of all, I have to get myself all the way back 100 percent healthy and sturdy," said Andrews, "and then I have to bring the mental aspect of my game with me and come back with a different attitude, way different than what I had last year.
"Like I said, I'm a new being in a new state of mind and so I just have to come with that every day."
It starts now for Andrews and for the Eagles and what they are going to do along the offensive line. You can talk about the wide receivers and the tight end and the backs, but if the Eagles don't get it right, all the way right, up front, the offense is not going to operate in the manner the coaches need next season.