Try telling Max Jean-Gilles that preseason games mean nothing. Tell him that it's best to eliminate games in the summer, and that if the games don't count in the standings, they shouldn't even be played. Preseason football prepared Jean-Gilles for this, for being a starting right guard with the Eagles.
On the day when the Eagles announced that Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews, who has played just two games this season, would be shelved for perhaps another six games -- maybe more -- Jean-Gilles went about his business as he has every day this year. He reported early to practice. He stayed late with the other linemen working with coach Juan Castillo.
And then he mirthfully broke through a gaggle of reporters on his way to a position meeting, trying to keep everything as casual as possible.
And maybe Jean-Gilles has it right. He is the starting right guard in this offense, but he's been the starter since the preseason, save the opening two regular-season games. Jean-Gilles, who received only scant playing time since the Eagles made him a fourth-round draft pick in 2005, has arrived. Well, more than arrived. He became the starter at right guard -- only after the expectation was that he would compete with Todd Herremans for a starting left guard job in the spring and summer -- when Andrews missed training camp with a bout of depression and has not looked back.
"It's been a roller-coaster. I came to camp thinking I would compete for the left guard job. I was thrown in at right guard. It's been a day-by-day process," said Jean-Gilles. "Just let the man upstairs deal with it."
Jean-Gilles is a huge man, physically imposing, but just like every lineman who makes the move from college to the NFL, the learning curve is steep. Jean-Gilles was a road-grader at Georgia who wore down the defensive man across the line of scrimmage. Georgia lined up and ran behind Jean-Gilles, usually with great success.
Making Jean-Gilles into a complete player at level required a lot of hard work and dedication from him and from Castillo, the hard-working, very successful line coach. They spent hours and hours together working on hand placement and foot work and on finishing plays. Pass protection is key here, of course, and Jean-Gilles had to master the technique part of things.
He has done that.
And then some.
"The thing Max has done that I think is important, is he's improved every week," said head coach Andy Reid. "The guys around him have a lot of trust in him and he's playing good football right now. Max has that type of personality, but it's important that he continues to do that; that he continues to work hard at his game and gets better every week like he's been doing."
Jean-Gilles isn't Andrews, a two-time Pro Bowl player who has a dancer's feet and grace, a bulldozer's power and the overall athletic ability of a player 60 pounds lighter. Jean-Gilles, though, has demonstrated his improvement of late by getting out and clearing a path in the screen game with picture-perfect blocks. He mowed down standout linebacker Patrick Willis in San Francisco to help Correll Buckhalter make a big play on a screen play.
It was a special moment, one that made all of those long hours with Castillo worth the effort. For a long time, Jean-Gilles was a mystery to us. He hadn't played enough to really get a feel for. The Eagles went into the spring hoping to develop some offensive line depth, and Jean-Gilles has come through in a big way.
He acknowledges that the technique part of the game is the hardest thing to learn. You can't just blow up a guy on every play.
"My coach (Castillo) has worked with me since training camp on cut blocks," said Jean-Gilles. "I used to hate cutting. It hurts. It hurts real bad. I just had to (learn to) sacrifice my shoulders. Hand placement is the hardest thing, really, I'm just trying to get where I'm perfect on hand placement, working on that every single day, before, during and after practice, trying to get more natural at it."
The Falcons are going to go after Jean-Gilles. They have a mountain of a man inside in tackle Grady Jackson and they have a lot of speed off the edges, particularly John Abraham. The trial period ended for Jean-Gilles long, long ago. He is on the rise, hoping to help button up this Eagles offensive line.
Jean-Gilles is all grown up, and the Eagles need him badly for a long as they can see this season. Andrews is out of the picture for at least the next six weeks. Jean-Gilles is the guy.
"I just took the approach since training camp that it's my job," said Jean-Gilles. "Whether he came back or not, I just had to compete for it every day."