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Offensive Line Battles Changes

In a perfect world, Mudd would have come out of retirement with a full offseason to teach his new offensive linemen the way he demands they conduct business. He would have had them fully ingrained in his sets, in his pulls and tugs and drops and hand placement and all of the nuances of the job Mudd has become famous for teaching.

But 2011 isn't a perfect world in the NFL. It is a hurry-up-and-play situation for every team, and so some of the teaching situations are rushed and the entire league has to make due with the time they've had on the practice field.

So Mudd's offensive line is making the best of the situation. And the situation is that Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters is out for Sunday's game in Buffalo, replaced by King Dunlap, and first-round draft pick Danny Watkins is set to make his first start in place of Kyle DeVan at right guard.

There is no time for patience. At 1-3 and on the road in a hostle environment, the offensive line holds the key for an offense that has been great between the 20-yard lines this season, and not very good in the red zone.

The line must play well. Dunlap, as he did in 2010 when he started for an injured Peters, has to play strong on the edge and move his feet and punch with confidence and take advantage of his reach. Dunlap is very good when he gets his hands on a pass rusher, and the Bills have some speed and power from their 3-4 front.

Watkins is a work in progress. There is no denying that he is a talent and that those who watched at Baylor saw a physical, tenacious and highly-skilled offensive tackle. He is a guard now, playing on the right side after a terrific career at left tackle in college. To judge Watkins at this point in an NFL career that has just started is foolhardy. Give the young man a year, and then a full offseason, and let's see where he is next year, or the season after that.

The Eagles need him now, though. They need him to be tough and nasty inside, to provide some push in short-yardage situations and to maintain his balance and leverage against the games that Buffalo is sure to bring. The Eagles are well aware that Shawne Merriman is a roving pass rusher, and that rookie Marcell Dareus is a 340-pound dynamo who will be a handful for Watkins to contain.

I know the big story this week is what quarterback Michael Vick said about the "Dream Team" label that has haunted this team all season, that the "Dream Team is dead" and all of that. The media, predictably, has had a field day with that.

The real story with this team is how much hunger it shows on Sunday and how it overcomes some injury concerns along the line of scrimmage. Darryl Tapp is on track to play against Buffalo. He will be a huge addition. Tapp had a terrific game in St. Louis before his pectoral strain injury. Juqua Parker is also on the practice field, but is more of a question mark for Sunday.

On offense, it's all about the line. Can the Eagles give Michael Vick time to throw against an opportunistic and aggressive Buffalo defense? Can the Eagles generate a strong running game? Can they put the ball in the end zone from close quarters?

For years and years, the Eagles had real consistency up front and the team responded with division titles and deep trips into the NFC playoffs. It was no coincidence. The offensive line has not settled in the last three seasons, but the makings of consistency are there with Jason Kelce at center and Watkins, as he develops, at right guard to go along with Peters and Todd Herremans, who has played a very fine right tackle. Evan Mathis has been a solid player at left guard, a pleasant surprise to those who didn't know his game.

Given the win/loss record, the Eagles need it all to come together quickly. That is the norm in a season that started too late and is rushing past our very eyes. Mudd's coaching expertise is again on display as the Eagles prepare for their latest must-win of this ever-changing 2011 early season.

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