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Offensive Line Tops Need List

Pausing from the focus of the here and the now for the Eagles, I dare peer into the future. There is so much unknown about what is ahead for this franchise, of course, and to speculate is something that is difficult to do in this position.

We'll have a lot of opportunity to discuss the particulars of the franchise at the proper time, I promise. In the meantime, let's talk football and, specifically, what I see as the very top need for the football team.

The offensive line. And anyone who takes the line, pun intended, that good health is all that is needed for the Eagles up front, is badly mistaken.

Without a good one, as we have seen for the last several seasons, the offense is only going to be so effective. A group of five players that had so much stability during the best offensive days of the early 2000s has been the picture of change since 2008. Aging bookend tackles Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas were done in Philadelphia after that season, and the offensive line has been an area the coaches have had to mix and match players since.

The injuries to Peters, Kelce and Herremans dealt a blow that even a great coach like Howard Mudd could not overcome this year. Losing those three starters to injury, plus the ineffectiveness of second-year guard Danny Watkins, forced four new starters onto the field.

And while there have been moments where it's all clicked -- the running game was tremendous in New Orleans and Dallas and at Lincoln Financial Field against Carolina, and the late-game drives at Tampa Bay delivered a much-needed victory -- the line has struggled just to be decent.

Jake Scott was signed off the streets and in the lineup a few practices later. Dallas Reynolds became a starter after three seasons on the practice squad. Rookie Dennis Kelly has been a tackle, then a guard and is now back at tackle. King Dunlap has been in and out of the starting lineup, and ultimately he beat out the disappointing Demetrius Bell at left tackle.

The mismatch of personnel has provided a mismatch of performances. And that brings us to eyeing 2013 and assigning a "need" list.

Peters, Kelce and Herremans are expected to be 100 percent healthy for 2013 and that's encouraging. There is no question that the prospects for the offensive line are much improved with those three on the field.

But why would the Eagles assume that all three are going to return to their pre-injury form when history has told us repeatedly that players who come back from serious injury are not the same the following season? Beyond that, what system will the Eagles play on offense in 2013? What technique will the offensive line be asked to play? How does Kelce, who excelled as a 300-pound, athletic center under Mudd fare with a new line coach who may be looking for something else at the position?

Even if all three players are just as good next season as they have been in the past, is that enough for the offensive line? Where does Watkins fit in, if at all? Is Herremans, who had his ups and downs at right tackle this season prior to the injury, more suited to play on the edge or inside?

The notion that the Eagles just need to get their players healthy to again have a "dominating" offensive line is to overlook the fact, not the opinion, that the Eagles have not been dominant along the offensive line for years and years. Mudd ripped the line apart last year and only late in the 2011 season did the line perform at an above-average level. While much improved, the line was hardly dominating last year.

This season, the Eagles struggled from the very start. Bell never came close to replacing Peters, who suffered his torn Achilles tendon in the spring. The Eagles hoped it would be relatively seamless for Bell to become the starting left tackle, but he didn't adjust to Mudd's technique and contributed very little this year. That set off a chain reaction of struggles, compounded by in-season injuries to Kelce and Herremans.

If you want the offense to be balanced and efficient and truly effective in the red zone, then you have to understand how much the Eagles need up front. They can't stop at "being OK there" when they look at the depth chart in the offseason. They can't take anything for granted, especially when it comes to counting on players returning from serious injury to return immediately to high-level performance. It's just too risky.

The Eagles are going to have a chance to add quality linemen in free agency, perhaps, and unquestionably through the draft. While there are other needs -- we all understand that the defense needs several pieces as well and some on the offensive side of the ball beyond the line of scrimmage -- the Eagles would be well served to have an eye on dominance from tackle to tackle offensively.

Being "OK" is one thing, but it's not enough. If the plan to go with a young quarterback, and it's fair to say that Nick Foles would seem to be the leading candidate at this point, then the Eagles need to strive for greatness around him. That means quality skill-position players, which the Eagles have (and I'm not ruling out adding a tight end or a wide receiver, or both), and it means having as good an offensive line as the team can possibly construct.

Whether you want to admit it or not, the Eagles have been pushed around at the line of scrimmage too much in recent seasons. It's time to build the line back up to a position of strength, of dominance, no matter how many resources the Eagles have to use to reach that level.

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