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Three-And-Out: Guard

1. Is Danny Watkins your opening day starter at right guard?

There's no question that Watkins was drafted with the expectation of being an early contributor. The 26-year-old former firefighter certainly appears to have the maturity to handle a starting role from the outset, but with his somewhat limited football experience and the truncated offseason will he be able to get ingratiated into the offense quickly enough to be manning the right guard position in Week 1? At this point, the smart money is still that he probably will be the guy from day one. New offensive line coach Howard Mudd is enamored of Watkins and will do all he can to bring the rookie up to speed. Clearly, the Eagles made an offseason priority of improving the offensive line and Watkins was the biggest step in that process - if he's not in the lineup Week 1, then it won't be long before he's one of Michael Vick's protectors.

2. Will anyone off the radar emerge as a Mudd favorite?

The Eagles are transitioning from one highly respected offensive line coach to another this offseason, but Mudd and Juan Castillo have traditionally utilized different philosophies with regard to how best to protect the quarterback. While Castillo has often coveted players with significant size, Mudd's emphasis on athleticism has allowed him to employ smaller, quicker offensive linemen in the past, especially on the interior line. That could potentially be good news for a player like Dallas Reynolds, 6-4, 320, who has parts of the past two seasons on the Eagles' practice squad, with a brief stint on the active roster in 2009.

Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles are set to potentially hit free agency, so perhaps the team will also be looking to bring in their own free agents on the line, but they won't lack internal options when it comes to depth. Like Reynolds, Fenuki Tupou spent much of 2010 on the practice squad, bouncing between tackle and guard. Austin Howard is a candidate to move to guard, though he may be better suited at his natural tackle position under Mudd. In fact, Andy Reid even mentioned the possibility of King Dunlap, all 6-feet-9-inches of him, spending some time at guard. But the likeliest options for backup guards, working on the assumption that Watkins and Todd Herremans are the starters, are another rookie and last year's starting center. Mike McGlynn, 6-4, 315, will be competing with Jamaal Jackson, A.Q. Shipley and Jason Kelce for the starting job at center when football resumes, but he also has the most experience working at guard as a pro, where he spent much of his first two seasons. After the experience he gained in 2010, McGlynn portends to be a valuable, versatile swing player in 2011.

3. Will Julian Vandervelde fight his way onto the roster?

The other rookie guard who joins the Eagles as a draft pick in 2011 is Vandervelde, the athletic former Iowa Hawkeye with the great voice. More importantly, Vandervelde, 6-2, 300, has experience at both guard positions (he started 37 games at the two positions in his collegiate career) and appears to have the requisite athleticism for Mudd's system. Like Watkins, Vandervelde will be a bit hamstrung by the short offseason, but the four-time academic All-Big Ten honoree should better equipped than most rookies when it comes to picking up an NFL offense.

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