In our position preview series leading up to Training Camp, we've looked at the quarterbacks and all of the skill position players. Now, let's look at the players who will protect the playmakers starting with the offensive tackles. Here are the three biggest questions facing the offensive tackle position group ...
1. Can Demetress Bell Hold Down The Left Tackle Position?
The news back in May that All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters had ruptured his Achilles tendon was extremely disappointing to say the least. Peters had arguably his best season as a pro in 2011 and was considered by many the best left tackle in all of the NFL. In a nearly perfect offseason for the Eagles, this was the biggest speed bump. There is no date set for his return. Credit the Eagles for moving swiftly and signing the top free agent on their board in former Bills left tackle Demetress Bell to take over as the starter.
Ironically, Bell replaced Peters in Buffalo. A three-year starter, Bell has the size and athleticism that offensive line coach Howard Mudd craves. The biggest stumbling block in Bell's career has been injuries. Bell started each game in 2010 and enjoyed his best season as he surrendered only four sacks. Mudd will look at Bell as his pet project much like he did with Peters a year ago. Mudd rode Peters hard at Training Camp and got him to respond. Expect to see the same with Bell.
The Eagles had a lot of success on the left side of the offensive line thanks to Peters. He could eliminate an opposing defense's best pass rusher one-on-one and maul linemen to pave the way for running back LeSean McCoy, tossing would-be tacklers aside with aplomb. Certainly, this is one of the team's biggest concerns going into 2012. Other than Bell's experience, here's an eye-popping stat from Jason Cole over at Yahoo! Sports that should alleviate some of the fears of Eagles fans - only one Super Bowl winning left tackle in the past 11 seasons has been a first-round pick (Tarik Glenn, Colts).
If you look at the consensus top left tackles around the league over the past couple of years, which includes Peters, none of those teams have experienced a deep playoff run.
The "silver lining" to Peters' injury is that the Eagles had the entire offseason to get Bell acquainted with Mudd's methods and still have Training Camp. That was not a luxury last season. If the Eagles thought that Bell wasn't good enough to get the job done, they could have already hatched an alternate plan. However, Mudd was confident when he spoke to reporters last month about Bell and said that the team will win games with Bell as the left tackle.
2. How Much Will Todd Herremans Improve?
A year ago while doing these position previews, I wrote that the Eagles would not move Todd Herremans out of his left guard spot. Needless to say, I'm glad I was wrong.
Last year, the Eagles went into Training Camp with Winston Justice at right tackle. Justice was still bothered by a 2010 knee injury and couldn't hold the spot. Remember Ryan Harris? The talented, but injured, offensive lineman seemed to be the answer for a brief amount of time before an injury ended his time with the Eagles. King Dunlap took a turn at right tackle. So did Fenuki Tupou. Did I miss anyone?
At some point during the preseason, Herremans told the coaches that he wanted the right tackle job. The former college tackle had become arguably the best guard in the NFL to not have earned Pro Bowl honors. Herremans and Peters were a rock wall on the left side of the line. However, the need to protect quarterback Michael Vick's blindside was too great to ignore and Herremans took over the job ... after the third preseason game. With no game experience in the preseason, Herremans stepped out in Week 1 and proved to be the right man to handle the job. In fact, Herremans even played left tackle in Week 6 to spell an injured Peters and Dunlap and it was arguably his best performance of the season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Herremans allowed just four sacks all season and the Eagles were one of the league's best teams in running to the right side of the formation. According to NFL GSIS, a stat service, the Eagles ranked third in yards per carry to the right end of the formation and sixth in rushes behind the right tackle. Herremans was rewarded in the offseason for being a team player and a building block for this franchise. Herremans has now enjoyed an entire offseason to become more settled in at right tackle. Herremans has become good enough to go under the radar when it comes to the Eagles offseason, but there's no question he will benefit from the full offseason of practice to hone what he couldn't last season.
3. Which Young Tackle Will Step Up?
The Eagles have Bell signed for the next five seasons and Herremans locked up with a long-term extension. They have a good swing tackle in King Dunlap, but he is only signed through 2012.
The team added a lot of young tackles in the offseason. They acquired D.J. Jones and Thomas Welch off waivers. They drafted Dennis Kelly out of Purdue in the fifth round. Not all of these players are going to make the final 53-man roster. The Eagles need to find out if any of them can be potential starters down the road or part-time starters? Can these players back up on the left side, right side or both?
If you draw up a worst-case scenario for the Eagles, one of these young players could get pressed into playing time. Mudd needs to weed out the contenders from the pretenders and prepare accordingly. Watching these guys during O-line/D-line one-on-ones and in the preseason will provide one of the best roster job battles in camp, but will not get many of the headlines.
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