Peters. Herremans, Jackson. Andrews. Andrews. Pretty damn good looking offensive line on paper. Unfortunately, on paper is the only place that line played together. Shawn Andrews re-aggravated his back injury. Todd Herremans suffered a "stress reaction" in his left foot. Stacy Andrews wasn't 100%, and wasn't exactly effective. For the first couple weeks of the season, our starters were Peters, Cole, Jackson, Jean-Gilles, and Justice. That's quite a departure from the expected.
By the end of the season, of course, Shawn Andrews was placed on IR, Jamaal Jackson had torn his ACL, and Stacy Andrews had failed to live up to expectations. Our offense looked pathetic and our offensive line was abused by the Cowboys in consecutive weeks. Justice was a pleasant surprise, by missing the fewest snaps amongst the line. Jason Peters, aside from a few miscues, was mostly productive as well.
Is depth really an concern?
I think the Eagles lack of moves during free agency is very telling. They've obviously been in no hurry to address the offensive line through free agency. Are they comfortable with their current backups? Cole has had more playing time than most starters. Max Jean-Gilles is adequate though not preferable. Mike McGlynn will be entering his third year as a player. Fenuki Tupou will enter his second season. Are the Eagles more likely to draft an offensive lineman and simply insert him higher than players that have been around? I'm not sure that's the case.
The Eagles highly value versatility. This is shown by the fact that almost everyone on the line is capable of playing more than one position. Herremans and Andrews can play tackle. Cole can play center or guard. Lesser known players, however might be positioned to step up this year. I think Mike McGlynn is definitely ready to compete for a spot on the active roster from week to week as the backup center who can also play both guard positions. Fenuki Tupou was a highly regarded tackle at Oregon and slipped a little in the draft due to a very innocuous incident involving an agent.
Has free agency told us anything?
The Eagles have been extremely active this offseason, but have yet to make a single change to our offensive line except for releasing Shawn Andrews. I think the best move the Eagles could make would be to sign a veteran center. This keeps Nick Cole as a backup guard, where he was most comfortable and most productive. But it also keeps him available as the backup center. This added layer of depth could make a tremendous difference down the line. Kevin Mawae is still available and may be the best solution.
From a few articles I've read, the 39 year-old president of the NFLPA will likely command little more than the veteran's minimum salary. He is clearly a natural leader, and last year he anchored a line that paved the way for 2,000 yard rusher Chris Johnson. His durability is amongst the best. He's missed 3 games in the last 4 years. Before missing 10 games in 2005, he had gone 10 straight seasons without missing a game.
It'd definitely be out of the ordinary for the Eagles to bring in someone Mawae's age, but circumstances might overcome the front office's normal tendencies. I don't think Mawae is a necessary signing, but I think signing a fill-in for one year would be very prudent.
Meet the probable 2010 starters
Our left tackle, Peters was acquired via a trade with the Bills last year. Maybe Peters didn't live up to the Andy Reid's hype, but he was probably still our best offensive lineman in 2009. He was tasked with defending McNabb's blindside, where he allowed 6 sacks, 4 QB hits, and 12 pressures. Not exactly elite, but he easily ranks inside the top 10 with those numbers, arguably top 5.
Herremans missed the first 5 weeks of the season with the aforementioned stress reaction. His strength is pass blocking and he's above average at run blocking. He's not the flashiest guy, but he's a solid starter, no matter what JIBTA says. He also has been known to fill-in at left tackle in a pinch.
Nick Cole has proven himself invaluable to this team. Capable of starting all three interior line positions, his versatility and capable (though not elite) blocking skills have made him simply indispensable. Still considered a backup (Ha!), Cole has started 20 consecutive regular season games spanning the last two seasons in addition to 4 playoff starts in that same time frame. I don't think that streak is about to break. With a training camp and preseason to prepare at center, I think the mishaps we saw at the end of last season will become a distant memory.
Stacy is perhaps the biggest question mark going into the next season. Was he affected by his injury? Will he ever again be the player who was once franchised by the Bengals and signed to a very lucrative contract by the Eagles? Hopefully he is. The Eagles think he will be. There were plenty of excuses for what happened last year, but it was a bona fide disaster any way you slice it.
Stacy Andrews saw hardly any playing time. He claimed his knee was not an issue. Was he unfamiliar with the playbook? How much time would he require to take it in? Hopefully, the lack of a full training camp and preaseason was a setback that he just didn't recover from. I think there's a pretty good chance he becomes the guy we need him to be.
Probably the guy who was least expected to play the most snaps. Before the preseason, some even predicted he'd be cut. However, he filled in and played well enough that the Eagles signed him to an extension and view him as the starter for years to come. His emergence made the decision to cut Shawn Andrews easier to swallow.
The Guys Who Might Make This Bearable
Meet the next Nick Cole. Mike McGlynn has quietly stayed in the background as his offensive line comrades have fallen like flies. He was on the 53 man roster for each week last year, and he was activated in week 17 after Jamaal Jackson injured his knee. You might be wondering "If he's so good, why was he inactive all year?" It's a valid question, but I think that's answered by the fact that we simply had the depth at guard. Herremans was healthy, and Cole was by far our best option at right guard. Max Jean-Gilles had more experience, leaving McGlynn as the odd man out.
So where does McGlynn fit in? He's able to play each of the interior line positions, just like Cole. Of the snaps he received during the preaseason, the majority of his snaps came at left guard, but he also was the player snapping the ball for a bit. He played center in high school, and displayed plenty of versatility at Pitt, playing guard and tackle. Like I mentioned earlier, he was activated in Week 17, and I think that's because he's considered the next player on the depth chart at center. I think he'll be someone to keep a very close eye on in the preseason.
One guy isn't going to be enough to solidify the line. That's where Fenuki Tupou steps in. The Eagles were lucky to get him near the end of the 5th round last year. Tupou was projected to go in round 3 by most projections.
First thing you realize about him is that he's a big dude. 6'6" and 330 lbs. What you might not know about him are his credentials. How good was he? Well, he's the reason Max Unger was a center and not a left tackle. Tupou played well enough Oregon coaches felt the team was better served moving Unger to center and inserting Tupou into the lineup at left tackle.
He isn't considered left tackle material in the NFL, sadly. However, he is able to play either guard position in addition to right tackle. The Eagles drafted him, gave him a test run during the preseason, and didn't want to risk losing him on the practice squad. Therefore, he was put on injured reserve, thus securing his services for the 2010 season.
OK, I'll admit I know nothing about these guys. Shipley is a center the Steelers drafted in the 7th round not so long ago. Dallas Reynolds' normal position is guard, but I've also seen him listed at center. I don't think either have ever been on the active roster.
Best case scenario
Jason Peters improves upon last year and demonstrates the elite ability that enticed Andy Reid to trade with Buffalo. He dominates the competition, and our yet-to-be-determined quarterback remains healthy and upright against very tough NFC East defensive ends.
Jamaal Jackson has an unexpected lightning fast recovery. Optimistic projections have Jackson returning to the playing field as early as August. If he can somehow make that recovery timeline happen, he could return to a starting role in the first few weeks of the season.
Stacy Andrews regains his form and becomes a dominant guard once again. His ACL tear a distant memory, he's fully recovered and as strong as ever. After a year and an offseason, the new offense is second nature to him and he has no excuses and no lapses in play.
Herremans continues to play well and stays healthy. Justice proves it was not a mistake to make him the starter and extend him.
Worst case scenario
Jason Peters is obviously a very important component to the offensive line. If he is out, we're certainly not improved by sliding Herremans out to left tackle, but we're not screwed either. If Peters becomes injured, Herremans moves out, and Jean-Gilles or McGlynn steps in at left guard (assuming Nick Cole is still the center).
If Herremans becomes injured, Jean-Gilles will likely take over for him. If Nick Cole becomes injured, McGlynn takes over for him.
At right guard, we'll be plenty deep. Stacy Andrews will be the starter. McGlynn, MJG, and Tupou will all be available to back him up. At right tackle, if Justice become hurt, Stacy Andrews would likely be the first choice. Behind him would be Stacy Andrews.
What are the absolute worst case scenarios, though? If two (or more) starters go down, we could be seriously screwed, especially if one of those starters is Peters. His production is the least replaceable. Herremans playing left tackle is a dropoff. However, if Herremans is injured at the same time, that could be simply disastrous. Who would step in at left tackle? Justice would likely be the choice. However, this is not a situation that would leave the Eagles fanbase feeling extremely confident.
Cole becoming injured would hurt as well. Because of his versatility, an injury to Cole would simply cause serious damage to our depth.
I think the right side of the line would survive fine unless both Andrews and Justice were hurt at the same time.
I know we're not all exactly comfortable with the idea of inexperienced players getting significant roles. Especially if those players play a position that doesn't get a lot of press, yet we know to be extremely important. However, it's more than likely that at least two current Eagles step into a more prominent role.
I feel as though the Eagles should bring in a veteran center to ensure an added layer of depth by keeping Nick Cole available. If he's not occupied playing center, then an injury to anyone on the line is survivable. If Peters or Justice is hurt, Herremans or Andrews slide out to replace them, and Nick Cole would come in to play guard. If a guard or center is hurt, Cole comes in for them. However, a lot of flexibility is sacrificed if we go into the season with Cole as the starter.