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NFL champions start in the trenches, a strong spot here

Those who gained the glory – quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski leading the way – deserved it in the aftermath of Tampa Bay's 31-9 win over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV. But the true takeaway from that blowout performance is that the NFL is all about the line of scrimmage, and if you want to feel like the Eagles can jump back into the thick of things in the NFC in 2021, start with an objective view of the team's trenches.

If there is a strength-on-paper aspect to the Eagles as they exist at this moment – subject to plenty of change, understood – it's the offensive line. Or, at least, the upside of the offensive line that expects to get back right tackle Lane Johnson at full strength, that hopes right guard Brandon Brooks comes back all the way after missing 2020 with a torn Achilles tendon, and that anticipates great competition at left tackle with 2019 No. 1 draft pick Andre Dillard and the emerging Jordan Mailata. Nothing is for sure, as we all know, but if those three positions work out and Jason Kelce returns at center with Isaac Seumalo at left guard, the Eagles have the makings of a back-to-normal offensive line that could be one of the best in the league for returning coach Jeff Stoutland.

The injury-plagued 2020 version of the offensive line crippled the offense, but in the darkness was the silver lining that young players like Mailata and Nate Herbig and Jack Driscoll and Matt Pryor and Brett Toth and Sua Opeta gained invaluable playing time and the Eagles now have a full handle on what those players offer and how they work into Stoutland's scheme. In the best-case scenario for 2021, all of the injured players come back healthy and the Eagles pick up right where they left off as a dominating offensive line. In another-case scenario, the Eagles have a strong base with which to work, have some young talent to integrate into the mix, and add talent through the NFL Draft.

In either scenario, the Eagles have something good brewing up front, and as the Chiefs found out in the Super Bowl after rejiggering their offensive line and then going out and losing the battle against Tampa Bay's pass rush, when you're stout up front – pun intended – then your offense has a chance to succeed. When you aren't, like Kansas City on Sunday night, you don't have a running game and your quarterback spends 60 minutes running away from pressure trying to stay upright.

On the defensive side of the ball, well, the Eagles have more work to do but they have some foundational pieces. Tackles Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave will gain chemistry with a full and more-normal offseason on the field together. End Brandon Graham enters his 12th season coming off a Pro Bowl year and still has gas in his tank. End Josh Sweat has improved steadily in his three seasons and that should continue in Year 4. After that? The Eagles have to make the decision on Derek Barnett's fifth season. They have other roster calls to make, too, in a new defense and a new scheme. The Eagles need more firepower along the defensive line, for sure.

But they have something to build upon here. Both lines of scrimmage are focal points for a team aiming to play sound, fundamental, physical football under new Head Coach Nick Sirianni.

Right here and now, I know the popular topic of conversation isn't the offensive and defensive lines. Nobody here is blind. Those stories, that story, will take care of itself between now March 17, when the NFL's new business year begins.

The Eagles have so much going on right now – salary cap projections to make, free agency to prepare for, the NFL Draft – and on that list is the state of the line of scrimmage. It has long been a focus for this franchise. It will continue that way. If the Eagles are great in the trenches, they're going to win a lot of football games. As much as the focus in this great NFL game is on those who make the headlines and who score all the touchdowns, we all understand it's the offensive and defensive lines that pave the groundwork. Green Bay lost its left tackle, David Bakhtiari, prior to the playoffs and his absence came back to cost quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game loss to Tampa Bay. Kansas City played the Super Bowl with backups at both tackle positions and one guard spot and failed to score a touchdown against the Bucs.

The lines matter. There is nothing blurry about that fact, and the Eagles, as they turn to 2021 with an 0-0 record like every team in the league, begin with optimism about the state of the trenches, a good place to start for a transitioning roster.

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