1. Who will protect Michael Vick's blindside?
It won't be a sexy matchup, but one of the best position battles to watch before the start of the season will be at the right tackle spot where Winston Justice will look to keep the starting job away from King Dunlap. Since becoming the full-time starter at right tackle in 2009, Justice has been a more-than-serviceable player at the position. But is that enough? Justice battled through injury and inconsistent play at the right guard position in 2010 culminating with his second-half benching in the playoff loss to the Packers. The selection of Danny Watkins in the draft was designed to solidify the right guard spot. Don't forget that Justice's knee injury required offseason surgery. Without the OTAs, we have not been able to see where he stands (literally) with that.
Dunlap, a freakish 6-9 late-round pick in 2008, started five games last year at both tackle spots and looked impressive at times. The X-factor in all of this is Howard Mudd. Juan Castillo required his tackles to take vertical steps backwards in pass protection. Under Mudd, they will drop back at an angle and have the help of the guards who aggressively attack on pass plays. Athleticism is the prerequisite over power and size with Mudd and both Justice and Dunlap can each make the case that they will adapt, but Justice's stature (6-6, 320) is more on point with what Mudd used in Indianapolis.
2. Have we seen the best of Jason Peters?
Jason Peters is one of the best left tackles in the NFL. He's made the Pro Bowl in four straight years and also earned All-Pro honors in three of those four seasons. Peters will be entering his third year with Philadelphia in 2011 and has made the transition from one of the best franchise history in Tra Thomas very smooth. Peters was acquired from Buffalo where he did not get to taste winning whereas each of his first two years with the Eagles resulted in playoff appearances. He's been the left tackle of the two highest-scoring offenses in franchise history.
There's reason why we may not have seen the best of Peters - again, it comes back to Mudd. Peters was originally signed by the Bills as a rookie free agent tight end. He was converted to tackle under the supervision of Jim "Mouse" McNally, who employed a similar system that Mudd utilizes. Peters will get to play the way he did when he became known as one of the league's best left tackles in Buffalo. But now, he'll get to play that style on a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
3. Where does Austin Howard fit in?
Howard was one of the darlings of training camp last year. The only rookie free agent to make the 53-man roster out of the preseason last year, Howard was raw but showed promise that he could be a project offensive tackle for down the road. The Eagles did draft three offensive linemen this year, but no tackles. It remains to be seen whether one will be added through rookie or veteran free agency. Howard got his chance to play in the regular season finale against the Dallas Cowboys and struggled at left tackle against All-Pro DeMarcus Ware. That game should give Howard plenty of film to study and work on this offseason. It also should have given Eagles fans a look at how important Peters is to this team.
The question with Howard will be how did he attack the offseason with no OTAs? Coaches will tell you that the biggest jump comes from year one to year two. Howard is clearly in the mix for a roster spot. The only other young, unproven tackle on the roster is Fenuki Tupou, a former late-round pick who has been a practice squad mainstay. The Eagles aren't moving Todd Herremans out of the left guard spot. Can Howard secure a spot on this year's 53-man roster as a reserve swing tackle?