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Eagles have some major questions to answer in the trenches

From The Eagles.

Divisional Round - Philadelphia Eagles v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

This feature is a weekly piece on titled From The Eagles, featuring Eagles Insider DAVE SPADARO. The intention is to provide a perspective directly from the Philadelphia Eagles in this forum for the great fans who visit BGN.

Howie Roseman promises to keep his “foot on the gas pedal” as the Eagles “reload” the roster for the 2019 season, but what does that mean, exactly? It means Roseman plans to challenge every spot on the roster, an ambitious task for a team that has some salary-cap challenges to navigate and some delicate free-agency decisions and age-related calls to make in the not-too-distant future.

And while you may have your dreams set on a superstar playmaker – yes, the Eagles have needs at wide receiver and at running back and certainly at cornerback – the guess here is that the over-arching focus will be on the meat and potatoes of this football team.

The offensive and defensive lines.

It is not surprising to you that the lines of scrimmage are so important. We all focus a lot on the glamour positions in the NFL, but the games are won at the snap of the football. The Eagles have long been proponents of building from inside out – making sure they have the quarterback position covered first, of course – and as they peer ahead, they’ve got some major questions to answer. As in …

  • How much are they counting on right guard Brandon Brooks next season? A torn Achilles’ tendon suffered in the playoff loss at New Orleans not only knocked Brooks out for that game, it put his 2019 season into question. Brooks estimates that he will be back on the field “doing football stuff” in six to eight months. If so, that is a great recovery. We’ve seen players take much longer than six to eight months to return from such a serious injury. The Eagles have to cover themselves at right guard, no matter the expectation of when Brooks returns. Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles in the offseason of 2012 and then re-injured it a few months later and missed the entire season. He returned to play 92 percent of the snaps in the 2013 campaign and made the Pro Bowl and was named to the All-Pro team. It was, though, a long rehab.
  • As for Peters, he played in all 16 games in 2018 and was a good player when he was out there, but he also saw action in only 79 percent of the games and was bothered for much of the season by a quad injury. How much does he have left for ’19? Can the Eagles handle his big contract?
  • Center Jason Kelce has been quiet since the day after the season ended with that out-of-nowhere-and-not-substantiated report of him considering retirement still lingering. The expectation, until any kind of official notice, is that Kelce will play in 2019. He needs an offseason to rest and recover after playing in noticeable pain throughout 2018. Kelce is one of the game’s best. The Eagles certainly don’t want to lose him.
  • Second-year men Jordan Mailata and Matt Pryor are expected to have big jumps from their rookie seasons, and the Eagles need to determine just how far away both of them are from contributing. The team has high hopes for both players and maybe Pryor is the hedge for Brooks and his recovery.
  • Halapoulivaati Vaitai did not take the expected next step last season after playing so well at left tackle in the Super Bowl season, so Big V has a Big Job in the months ahead: Get right and be ready should the Eagles move on from Peters. Again, this is not to suggest that the Eagles are planning to play 2019 without Peters, because only the inner circle in the football operations world knows the plan, but logic suggest the Eagles have to develop some consistent depth at both tackle spots. Big V has to be much better in his fourth season.
  • Isaac Seumalo made significant strides at left guard and needs to take another step in this offseason. The Eagles think he can be special as an interior offensive lineman and a good in-need player at tackle in emergencies. He’s the total package in terms of size, strength, athletic ability and football IQ. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.
  • Count on Stefen Wisniewski coming back and playing a valuable reserve role at both guard spots and center next season.
  • Along the defensive line, heck, anything can happen. Derek Barnett has to get healthy after his shoulder surgery. Tim Jernigan is a question mark after back surgery and minimal impact when he returned to the field. The depth at defensive tackle has to improve, although Treyvon Hester is a young player to keep an eye on. Free agency dominates the conversation, though. Brandon Graham and Haloti Ngata are all scheduled to be unrestricted free agents on March 13. Do any of them return? I’m not closing the door on Graham at all, by the way.
  • How much does the NFL draft impact the thinking along the defensive line? This is said to be a great defensive line draft. I’ll throw out this guess – the Eagles will use two of their first three draft picks (among the first 57 in the NFL) on defensive linemen.

As I look at this roster, every position except maybe tight end (although Richard Rodgers will be an unrestricted free agent) needs to be addressed. The Eagles have to do a bang-up job in the offseason to get back to the top of the NFC, but they need more than just about anything (other than making sure they are squared away at quarterback and Carson Wentz is healthy and ready to have a big year) along the lines of scrimmage. It may not be the pretty-boy stuff, but winning in the trenches usually leads to winning games in the NFL.

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