They have already signed two veteran coaches known in the NFL as the best at their crafts. Clearly, the line of scrimmage is a priority for the Eagles in this offseason, so the question is this: How are they going to address the offensive line and the defensive line in terms of personnel?
With the Scouting Combine in full bloom in Indianapolis, the word among the scouts is that the talent level is deep on both sides of the ball at the line of scrimmage in the draft. It makes sense to think the Eagles will use draft picks, maybe even high ones, to improve both lines. But what are they looking for? What are the true needs here? Let's take an early look ...
The Eagles have some pieces on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Offensively, they have Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, who clearly played more consistent and dominating football after his knee surgery early in 2010. Peters has the athletic ability to stay with the quick right ends out there, and he has the balance and the punch to handle the power pass rushers. Peters is a staple here.
So is left guard Todd Herremans, who maybe had the best season of his career in 2010. He was a concern in the summer with a sore foot, but the Eagles managed the situation well and Herremans held up for every game and played very, very well. There aren't many left guards out there who are better than Herremans.
After those two, though, there are questions. Veteran Jamaal Jackson returns from a couple of devastating injuries to challenge for the starting job at center. It could be, in fact, that Jackson is the starter going into the spring camps given his track record. Jackson is, he says, completely healthy. The knee injury he suffered late in 2009 is fine. The torn triceps that KO'd him in the opening game of 2010 is good to go.
Jackson faces a different picture than he did a year ago. While he was sidelined last year, Jackson watched Mike McGlynn mature as the starting center. It is expected that both will vie for the starting job, unless the Eagles surprise and go out and use a top draft pick on the position. At this point, it looks like a Jackson-McGlynn battle, with both players capable of handling the job very capably.
Right guard is a position to watch in the months to come. Both Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. That, of course, can change depending upon the language in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Certainly, the Eagles need to be more dominating at that spot, and it is very possible that the Eagles add a right guard into the mix either in the draft or in free agency. New line coach Howard Mudd hasn't indicted his thoughts on personnel, so there is no telling what he thinks about either Jean-Gilles or Cole or, for that matter, any of the players we're talking about.
At right tackle, Winston Justice's performance was clearly hampered by a knee injury last year. He is now, with a left-handed quarterback, the protector of Michael Vick's blind side, and that carries even more importance in the big picture. Is Justice dominating enough to start here? Was the knee injury a blip in an otherwise upward career track for Justice? We shall see what Mudd thinks.
It is also worth considering King Dunlap and youngster Austin Howard here. Both are impressive physical specimens, with long wingspans and athletic feet. Maybe Mudd thinks he can help both get to the next level. Maybe he thinks the Eagles need something else here.
On defense, the Eagles have some worthy candidates and they have some ability, but they have also been looking for some help to take the pass-rushing weight off of Trent Cole for a few years now. Who steps up?
Inside, the four tackles are solid, but not spectacular. Mike Patterson is the staple and a trademark of consistency. Brodrick Bunkley fell off in 2010, so it is going to be imperative for him to respond to the new ways of defensive line coach Jim Washburn. Antonio Dixon is precisely the kind of raw, largely-untapped talent whom Washburn has turned into Pro Bowl material, so let's see how Dixon works into the mix here in 2011. Same with Trevor Laws, who bounced back last season after a dreadful 2009.
The ends include Cole, Juqua Parker, Darryl Tapp, Brandon Graham, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Phillip Hunt and, for the purpose of being official, Bobby McCray (although he is an unrestricted free agent and it seems unlikely he would return). Washburn is big on speed and burst as he lines he ends up wide on the strong side (where the tight end lines up) and needs his ends to get to the quarterback.
I think the Eagles will make the line of scrimmage a high priority. Despite the reputation, Andy Reid has not invested a first-round draft pick on an offensive lineman since Shawn Andrews in 2004. It could be that time.
Then again, who knows what the Eagles are thinking? They are covering all of their bases at the Combine for at some point down the line when the line becomes a priority to address.