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Philadelphia Eagles' Offensive Line Situation Isn't so Bad

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COMMENTARY | It's easy to look at the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive line woes from 2012 and overreact right now.

A lot of fans and analysts are doing just that in projecting how the Eagles should spend their money and draft picks this offseason, clamoring for more and better tackles and guards.

Don't get me wrong, here; I am a big believer in building the best O-line possible if you want to contend in the NFL. For that reason, if Buffalo Bills G Andy Levitre wants to come to Philly in free agency, and/or if T Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M is still on the board when the Birds pick at No. 4, I say go for it, in both cases.

But we shouldn't forget just how downright fluky 2012 was for the Eagles' O-line.

Looking back, Jason Peters re-tearing his repaired Achilles in May of last year was really the foreshadowing clue that, for the offensive line, 2012 was going to be a season of best-laid plans going awry.

Even after Peters' injury, I was reading projections of Philadelphia sporting a top-10 O-line in 2012, with returning starters Jason Kelce at center, Todd Herremans at right tackle, Danny Watkins at right guard and Evan Mathis at left guard, as well as new addition Demetress Bell filling in for Peters at left tackle.

Who would have guessed, at that point, that the Birds would lose two more returning starters, with Kelce tearing ligaments in his right knee and Herremans breaking a bone in his right foot? On top of that, Watkins battled an ankle injury and overall ineffectiveness, and Bell was a disappointment from relatively early on.

With free agency set to begin on Tuesday, and the Eagles expected to have at least $32.5 million in cap space to spend -- and about $43.5, if they cut Nnamdi Asomugha as expected -- it's understandable fans want the team to target offensive linemen considering the recent history.

But things might not be so bad on the line.

If Peters, Kelce and Herremans all return to form in time for the 2013 season -- and, so far, all indications are that they will -- then the Eagles have that trio back along with Mathis, leaving Watkins as the only real question mark on the line.

Personally, I'd like to see what new offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland can do with Watkins, but I understand why many fans want the Birds to move on from the 2011 first-round pick.

Even still, Stoutland, the former Alabama offensive line coach, sounds confident that Watkins can turn things around, telling reporters earlier this week: "I know what a good player looks like, and I like what I see in Danny."

Many coaches think that they can be the one to "fix" an underperforming player -- Chip Kelly appears ready to try that with Michael Vick -- but imagine if Stoutland succeeded with Watkins and the injured starters all come back strong; suddenly, the Eagles' O-line looks like anything but a problem area.

The biggest reason that would be nice is it would allow the team to focus its free agency money and draft picks on rebuilding a defense that needs a whole lot of help. Maybe go after a cornerback and a safety -- Dashon Goldson? -- in free agency, and maybe target a guy like Oregon's Dion Jordan or Alabama's Dee Milliner with that No. 4 pick.

True, it wouldn't be a bad idea to think about the future at O-line this offseason, considering the injury history and the fact that Peters, Mathis and Herremans are all over 30.

But, for Philadelphia, the defensive backfield and the offensive line are the two areas that need the biggest improvement from 2012, and it's not completely ridiculous to think that the O-line could wind up being a strength this season, with only the players who are already in-house.

The same can't be said for the cornerback and safety positions, where we're likely (hopefully?) looking at four new starters this season.


Adam Sparks has followed the Philadelphia Eagles since the 1980s, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2010.

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