At this time last year, the thought of Winston Justice as a starting tackle might have made you thumb through a mental Rolodex of free agent quarterbacks since ours would certainly be running for his life.
But after seizing the opportunity at right tackle after Shawn Andrews' back injury and in the process earning a long-term contract extension, the former second-round pick now has his eyes set on even loftier goals.
"My goal is not to be a starting tackle, but to be a great, extraordinary tackle," Justice said following a recent OTA. "I still have a long way to go, but I'm in a good situation.""
The 6-6, 320-pound Justice started in all 16 games and developed into a reliable force on the right side as he earned All-Joe team honors from USA Today. While some athletes lose the passion after earning the big paycheck, it's almost the opposite for Justice. The 26-year-old was humbled early in his career during a prime-time start against the New York Giants that all but appeared to be the defining moment of his career.
That wouldn't be the case. It took awhile for Justice to realize that you need more than just talent to survive in the NFL.
"It's not just talent because everyone has talent," Justice said. "What separates the good from the great is how hard you work. If you look in the past at the people who were great at what they do, they practice at it over and over again. You have to keep working at it."
Justice spent this off-season focused on improving his hand quickness. As a reminder to never take the opportunity that's been presented before him for granted, Justice tells himself before every practice that, "This is my time. This is my chance to show that I can play." That's why after a recent practice, Justice stayed on the field to continue working with the rookies under the careful eye of line coach Juan Castillo.
"If you keep doing something over and over again, it starts to become natural and when you get into game-time situations, or even real practice situations, that's your natural reaction to what's going to happen," he said.
To obtain his goal of being one of the best in the league, Justice only has to look at the tackle on the other side of the offensive line. Jason Peters earned his third Pro Bowl nomination in his first year with the Eagles last season.
"We both have the same goals. We both want to be great offensive tackles. He might be a little ahead of me because he has a few Pro Bowls. Hopefully, I get a chance to go against a few good players this year and prove myself," Justice said. "I just need more experience and when I'm in there I hope the big names are across from me. That's the only way you get recognized. It's a chance to prove yourself. If you do well against the best guys in the league, you start to get noticed. Your hard work starts to pay off. You look for those opportunities to go against the best."
You might chuckle to yourself now, but you probably were at this time last year at the mere thought of him keeping the quarterback upright.
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 6:30 p.m., June 9