It's fair to say that Jason Peters, one of the premier left tackles in the entire NFL, is right at the top of the list among the MIE for 2016.
Most Important Eagles, of course. An eight-time Pro Bowl player, Peters is rejuvenated and more than ready to play at the highest level, and there are many reasons to think that can happen.
"I feel like I'm still at the top of my game," said Peters as he prepares for his 13th season. "I've got gas in my tank."
Peters spent his offseason getting stronger and adding a few pounds – he's up to 345 pounds after playing at around 330 pounds in an up-and-down 2015 campaign – and he's eager to display his skills in an offensive scheme that should, honestly and truly, benefit him more than system that emphasized tempo in 2015.
Why is there optimism among the Eagles that Peters can play at the top of his game this season? Many reasons, actually. The tempo offense last year – since 2013, actually – was exhausting for offensive linemen who hunger for a breather every now and then. Instead, there were no huddles on gamedays. And there were no breaks during the week, either. Peters and the Eagles practiced on Tuesdays under former head coach Chip Kelly and the big left tackle felt, at times, worn out by the time gameday rolled around.
Two, the offensive system employed by the Eagles in the past left both Peters and right tackle Lane Johnson on the island. They had defensive ends one on one on nearly every play and rarely, if ever, had a running back help with a chip block or a tight end help with a double team.
Then there was this, although Peters didn't flat-out say it on Thursday after the team's first full-squad practice at the NovaCare Complex (indoors, due to stormy weather): Teams knew what was coming. The snap count was the same on every play, too.
"When they know what the play is," Peters said, "it's tough."
Now? Peters thinks he can thrive in a more, um, traditional NFL offense that has "way more," said Peters, variety of running plays in the scheme.
"It was rough, especially when teams caught on to what we were doing," Peters said. "They're switching out players. Thirteen plays in, 11 plays in, they've got a fresh defensive end coming. A couple of times I got beat last year – and I'm not blaming that – (there were) fresh guys out there. There were a lot of plays, 60 plays sometimes by halftime. It was rough."
Peters didn't have a chance to rest much during the week, either.
"I felt it, even on Tuesdays when we were coming off a long game with a bunch of plays. You know, we practiced on Tuesdays when Chip was here," said Peters, who took no time off during the week. "You felt it on Sunday. I did, anyway.
"The rest time, I didn't get enough of it last year and it caught up to me."
Peters, who played in just 66 percent of the offensive snaps last year and missed two full games and parts of two others after starting 32 straight games after coming back from an Achilles tendon injury that forced him to miss all of the 2012 campaign, said he is "excited" to be in the "ground-and-pound, the old Andy Reid offense" that head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich are putting in place. The plan is to give Peters a day off during the week, perhaps Wednesday or Thursday when the Eagles are in pads, and the coaches will also be cognizant of not leaving both Peters and Johnson on an island for 60 minutes every week.
"What's been most impressive to me about Jason at his age is the quickness and the athleticism he still possesses," Reich said. "That's why he will go down as one of the all-time greats and be in the Hall of Fame. Particularly on backside cutoffs in the run game. When you're running certain plays, backside cutoffs are so imperative. For him to show the quickness and the athleticism that he's showing during our OTAs (Organized Team Activities in the spring), and you could argue that you're really not in your best shape in the OTAs, that you're in your best shape now, impressive.
"He has a great, positive attitude. He'll get more help this year. Now, he doesn't need much help, but we'll still give it to him. The great ones need a breather, too. Every now and then, give him a little help. That helps him set up a defender for things he wants to do later."
That all sounds great for Peters, who some year will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A tight end in college who was signed by Buffalo as an undrafted rookie, Peters made the transition to tackle and the rest is history in the making.
"Before I got hurt, I wasn't even getting beat," Peters said. "At the same time, you're one on one every single play (under Kelly). Those guys get paid, too. They're going to win some and you're going to lose some."
The Eagles are counting on Peters winning far more than he did last year. It was a Pro Bowl season for Peters, true, but it wasn't a vintage performance. With all the new elements in place – a new offensive scheme, coaches who understand that Peters needs to be fresh on gamedays, a collaborative effort to help Peters every now and then with a chip block from a back or a screen pass or an alignment that can take some of the pressure off of him on the island – we could see Peters, at age 34, continue to play the position as well as it's ever been played.
"He's got it in him," Reich said. "You see it every day in practice with the way he works and the way he moves. He's the total package at left tackle."