This is the third in a series analyzing the Eagles, position by position, leading into training camp ...
They are the grunts of the offense, but as Andy Reid and the Eagles look at the offensive linemen on this team, they see a set of individuals that hopefully comprise a beautiful group to dominate the line of scrimmage. But there are also questions that need to be answered in a positive manner, so it is fair to say that training camp is crucial for this group to develop chemistry and timing and build some continuity heading into September 12 against Green Bay.
On paper, it looks very promising. Jason Peters is a Pro Bowl left tackle who is on the road to having a dominating season now that he is totally with the Eagles' way of doing things and is in the best shape of his life. Left guard Todd Herremans is fully healthy, having shed nagging foot injuries. Right tackle Winston Justice proved last season that he is a more-than-capable right tackle who should take another positive step forward in 2010.
Even the question marks -- right guard and center -- have terrific upsides. Nick Cole is likely to head into training camp as the starting center, but Mike McGlynn will push him and the Eagles are very hopeful that Jamaal Jackson will return and play well at some point either in training camp or during the regular season. At right guard, Stacy Andrews is a high-level talent who is healthy after a washout 2009 season. He goes into camp as the starting right guard with a lot to prove after the Eagles reached out and signed him early in free agency last year.
The Eagles need their starting five to stay healthy and play well, and they need to develop some depth along the way, to make sure this line is up to standard. Kevin Kolb, the new starting quarterback in case you haven't heard, could help the group a lot by dropping back and throwing the football quickly -- he has a different style from Donovan McNabb, clearly -- and the offense is designed for success, but it is also a matter of every individual improving his game.
Peters, for example, made the Pro Bowl last year and at times was very, very good. He didn't dominate every week, and maybe that is too much to ask, but the Eagles think he has it in him to be that good. Herremans was banged up early last year and his absence hurt the offense, and then he missed some time in the spring with another foot injury. A healthy and focused Herremans helps this line immensely, and he is someone to watch in training camp.
Without Jackson, the steady and very technically-sound center, the Eagles are turning to Cole and McGlynn in camp to give them important experience at center. Cole is an explosive player who may very well be a better player at center than he has been at guard -- and he has been pretty good there, too. McGlynn has seen only limited time in the NFL since the Eagles made him a fourth-round draft pick, so it is his time to step up and establish his game.
The first lineman off the bench is Max Jean-Gilles, the versatile guard who is a very capable replacement -- and starter, for that matter -- at either guard spot. Jean-Gilles lost 35-plus pounds after lap-band surgery in the spring and looked quicker for it. What kind of shape will he be in for camp, and what will it mean for his game? Jean-Gilles is on a contract drive, no doubt about it. He wants to be a starter and he wants it either with the Eagles or elsewhere, so he is highly motivated to play well.
King Dunlap is in his third season at tackle and he is a different man. Dunlap is up to about 335 pounds and hopes to convince the Eagles he can play at both tackle positions.
Second-year man Fenuki Tupou spent last year on Injured Reserve, so this is a critical year for him to establish something here. Dallas Reynolds is also in the mix as a guard/center, and the Eagles have a host of kids -- keep an eye on tackle Austin Howard -- looking to impress.
Bottom line: It could be a really good group if all the pieces fall into place. But there are some "ifs" and that raises some concerns heading into training camp. The key is health, of course, and having the same five players on the field for each practice. If that happens for the Eagles, they would consider it a positive for this offensive line.
Next: Receiving corps (wide receivers and tight ends)