With Training Camp on the horizon, PhiladelphiaEagles.com is taking a look at the three biggest questions which each position group will look to answer prior to the start of the regular season. Here is a look at the tackle position.
1. How Will The Return Of Jason Peters Impact The Offense?
The Eagles' hopes for the 2012 season were dealt a serious blow when All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters, arguably the finest player at his position in the entire league, ruptured his Achilles. He didn't play a single snap in 2012. Peters returned to the field for the spring camps and declared that he was 100 percent. Furthermore, Peters added that he wouldn't come back if he wasn't able to function at the same high level that he did prior to the injury.
Peters and running back LeSean McCoy are the only two players on offense to have ever earned first-team All-Pro honors. But not even McCoy can fulfill his potential unless Peters is on the field. In McCoy's All-Pro 2011 campaign, he rushed 74 times to the left side of the field for 368 yards and six touchdowns with Peters paving the way, according to Pro Football Focus. Last year, McCoy rushed 37 times for 119 yards and no touchdowns to the left side, per Pro Football Focus. The Eagles realized the situation. In 2011, the Eagles ranked sixth in the NFL in rushes to the left side, per Stats Inc. Last year, they fell to 13th, per Stats Inc.
Of course, the rushing game was not the only facet of the Eagles offense that suffered without Peters. The Eagles relied on Demetress Bell and King Dunlap to man the left tackle position. Per Stats Inc., they allowed a combined 9.0 sacks. Peters allowed 2.5 sacks for the entire 2011 season per Stats Inc. And that's not taking into account other pressures.
Peters showed no signs of discomfort during the spring camps. In fact, Peters said he could have returned in December if needed. If Peters is back to 100 percent (or even close), the Eagles offense is already markedly better on paper than last season. Peters will make the entire offensive line better. Paired with Evan Mathis at left guard, the Eagles will have a formidable duo on the left side of the line.
2. What Is The Fallback Plan?
The 31-year-old Peters was told by doctors that there is no risk in him returning to action and the worst-case scenario would be a very slight dropoff in ability. However, Peters' size and rare athletic ability are the perfect match for the up-tempo offense that head coach Chip Kelly wants to run. What if, for whatever reason, Peters is not able to play at the All-Pro level that we are accustomed to?
2012 fifth-round pick Dennis Kelly took the first-team reps at left tackle during the spring when Peters was excused for personal reasons. Kelly is an athletic prospect who benefitted from earning playing time last season due to the numerous injuries along the offensive line.
The Eagles signed veteran journeyman Ed Wang at the start of the offseason and he was featured at left tackle during the spring camps. Like Peters, Wang started his NFL career in Buffalo, but the athletic tackle has not been able to get on track primarily because of injury.
A rookie free agent to keep an eye on for a roster spot is Matt Tobin. A former walk-on at Iowa, Tobin was a three-year letterman playing at both left tackle and left guard. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors as a senior.
One name who hasn't been mentioned is Todd Herremans, who has started the past two seasons at right tackle and is slated to move back inside to right guard. Herremans did have a few starts as a rookie at left tackle and made an emergency start in 2011 there as well. Herremans said that he has kept up with both positions and it would be interesting to see if he becomes a possibility if - again, if - Peters was unable to deliver in 2013.
3. Will Lane Johnson's Transition To The NFL Be A Seamless One?
The Eagles had their highest draft pick in over a decade and used the No. 4 overall selection on Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson, an extremely athletic prospect.
Johnson has been praised by his coaches as an outstanding talent who is tough with the ability to thrive in both the run and pass game. Johnson played in a no-huddle system as a Sooner, so the transition to the Eagles' scheme has been smooth.
Now, Johnson still has to win the right tackle job. Kelly took the first-team reps there except when he had to shift over to left tackle. Johnson then worked with the first-team offense. Kelly came into the spring camps confident and not willing to surrender the job without a fight after earning starting time last season.
If Peters can return to form, Johnson develops and Kelly continues to grow, the Eagles will be in much better shape from a starter and depth perspective at tackle heading into the 2013 season.
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