Today's position-by-position look at the roster puts the center position, well, on center stage. The Eagles had a backup finish the season for the second straight year albeit with much better results this time around.
1. Can the Eagles count on Jamaal Jackson?
From the time he took over as the full-time center in 2005 until the 2009 season, Jamaal Jackson was as dependable as they come. He started 71 straight games and was regarded as one of the better centers in the entire National Football League. His 2009 season ended with a torn ACL. After an arduous rehab to be ready for the 2010 season, Jackson tore his triceps tendon in the season opener against Green Bay and was lost for the year. Jackson is widely respected by his teammates as the quarterback of the offensive line. He was named to Sports Illustrated's Peter King's All-Pro team in 2006. Jackson just turned 31 in May, so age isn't a major factor. And the fact that he's played only one regular season game in two years has limited the wear and tear on his body. The two recent injuries don't indicate anything that should hamper Jackson long-term, so it will simply be a matter of him staying out there on the field.
2. Do the Eagles want Jamaal Jackson to be the center?
When Jackson is on the field, the offense has flourished. In 2009, the Eagles offense went into a sharp decline once Jackson was lost. The Eagles had back-to-back games against the Dallas Cowboys to end the 2009 season and managed just 14 points in two very disappointing losses. The Eagles managed much better in 2010 with a more-than-capable replacement in Mike McGlynn. The Eagles set the single-season franchise scoring record for the third straight year. However, the Eagles managed just 30 points in the last two games (including playoffs) in which the starters played. Not all of that falls on McGlynn, but it should be noted that the Eagles never scored fewer than 23 points in a playoff game with Jackson at center (five starts).
The wild card here is new offensive line coach Howard Mudd. Jackson is listed at 6-4, 325 pounds and is a beast in the run game which is where he was missed the most. McGlynn is listed as being 10 pounds lighter than Jackson. Now, look at Mudd's longtime center in Indianapolis, Jeff Saturday. A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Saturday is 6-2, 295 pounds. Juan Castillo needed bigger linemen to execute his scheme, so across the board the Eagles' linemen are going to be stouter than what Mudd previously worked with.
3. If not Jackson, then who?
Looking at the current roster, the Eagles have three centers outside of Jackson and McGlynn. The one with the most intrigue and who could be a good fit in Mudd's scheme is A.Q. Shipley. The nation's top center coming out of Penn State in 2009, Shipley was a late-round pick of the Steelers and spent his rookie season on their practice squad. Shipley spent last season on the Eagles' practice squad. Shipley is 6-1 and 315 pounds and possesses quickness, but the one knock is arm length which was a prerequisite in Castillo's scheme.
Dallas Reynolds' career path closely resembles that of Jackson's. A former rookie free agent out of BYU, Reynolds - like Jackson - earned a late-season roster promotion due to injury in 2009. Jackson, who was also a rookie free agent, was added to the active roster for the playoffs in 2003. The 6-4, 320-pound Reynolds spent all of last season on the practice squad, but also has the ability to play guard like McGlynn. Rookie draft pick Jason Kelce resembles a Mudd-type pick in size at 6-3, 282 pounds. The sixth-round pick is slotted to line up exclusively at center and is expected to bring the toughness and quickness that made him a staple along Cincinnati's offensive lines.