When the Eagles opened up training camp earlier this summer at Lehigh University, nobody was expecting Winston Justice to be the team's starting right tackle.
Well, not only has Justice grabbed hold of that title, but he appears to be the right tackle of the future after signing a four-year contract extension with the Eagles through 2013.
"No, and I don't think anyone could really," Justice said, when asked if he could imagine being in this position at the start of training camp. "I think I've come a long way. One of the things that my offensive line coach (Juan Castillo) always told me was that hard work pays off and I took that mindset. Even when things were looking bad I always believed and had faith that hard work does pay off and I worked pretty hard and I think it's paying off now. It's a blessing."
And hard work is precisely what Justice put in this off-season when he stayed in Philadelphia to work closely with Castillo every day.
"I just really wanted to make a change," Justice said of his decision to change his off-season schedule. "I really wanted to make a commitment to my work because I really feel that I was put there for a reason. I think that was biggest difference this year is that I really made a dedication to my trade.
"I thought I improved in every aspect, but I also need to improve in every aspect of my game still ... I think my goal is not to be a good or reliable guy, but my goal is to be a great tackle. I think I have a lot more steps for me to take for that."
Justice was given the opportunity to stake claim to the right tackle position when Shawn Andrews reinjured his back during training camp, and Justice hasn't looked back since, starting all 10 games for the Eagles this season.
"I don't wish bad upon anybody," Justice said. "It was a good opportunity that opened up for me. As I played more, as I had more reps, my confidence grew more and more. I think a lot of playing in the NFL is confidence. You have to have faith in your technique. You have to have faith that what your coaches are telling you is actually going to work. I think that grew the more reps I got."
And the Eagles expect Justice to get even more reps in the coming years. But even though Justice is locked up long-term, his mindset won't change one bit.
"That's why I work before and after practice every day," he said. "I think everyone is in that same boat as I am. That's why the NFL (stands for) not for long. There's always someone else coming, that's why you work so hard."
For now, Justice can revel in the new contract. After being drafted by the Eagles in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Justice's rookie contract was set to expire after this season, but the Eagles refused to let Justice get away.
"It feels nice to have that sense of security," Justice said. "As far as me and my family, our faith in God is enough security for us, but this is an added bonus. It feels better that the staff and the coaches have that much faith in me now. That aspect feels better than the whole financial security part of it."
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 4:19 p.m., November 24