While each off-season in Philadelphia is full of cries for the Eagles to test the free agent market and spend money on a big name receiver or premier player on defense, one area that has not been much of a concern in recent years is the offensive line.
Jon Runyan and William Thomas have been familiar faces up front during the Andy Reid era, and the duo, which holds the record for the most games played as a tackle combo in franchise history (118), had another strong campaign in 2007.
Runyan was one of the most underrated players at his position in the NFL this season, and many people felt he deserved his second trip to the Pro Bowl for his performance. Even though he is known for his reckless and rugged style of play, the 12-year veteran managed to not commit a single penalty all year. While battling in the trenches causes most linemen to miss a game on occasion, Runyan proved very durable this year and has now started 176 consecutive regular season games, the third longest streak among active players behind only Packer’s legend Brett Favre and Derrick Brooks of the Buccaneers. Runyan’s accomplishments are even more impressive because he played with a severely bruised tailbone through the second half of the season.
On the left side of the line, the 6-foot-7, 335 pound Thomas also had a solid year. He missed the fourth game of the season against New York with an MCL sprain, but bounced back quickly and returned the next week. Thomas often has to face off against opponents best pass rushers and protect Donovan McNabb’s blindside, and he helped slow down some of the better blitzing teams in the league this year. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Thomas ranks fourth all-time for games played by an Eagles offensive lineman (149) since being drafted with the 11th overall pick out of Florida State in the 1998 draft.
Winston Justice backs up both Thomas and Runyan, and the second year tackle from USC had a less than stellar debut starting for Thomas against the Giants when the teams first met this season. In a game that saw the Giants D rack up 12 sacks, Justice looked helpless against Pro Bowl end Osi Umenyiora and got beat to the edge too many times. The coaching staff did little to help him in his first game (as he faced Umenyiora one-on-one most of the time) and the former second round pick probably still has enough potential to be on the roster.
Eagles guard Shawn Andrews prepares for action.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Moving to the interior line, guard Shawn Andrews had another outstanding year opening running lanes for Brian Westbrook, and “the big kid” earned his second consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl in 2007. Although there were concerns about his weight when he entered the league, Andrews has put any questions about his athleticism to rest with another dominating season and is considered by many as one of the best guards in the league. He hast the strength to overpower defensive tackles on the line and has the speed to get blocks downfield on screen plays. The only knock on Andrews is his history of injuries; he missed most of his rookie year after fracturing his leg, left a playoff game last year with a neck injury, had problems with his ankle last off-season, and missed a game this year with a sprained MCL.
Todd Herremans lined up at the other guard spot for the Eagles, and he regressed in his second year as a starter. Originally selected in the fourth round of the 2005 draft as a tackle out of Division II Saginaw Valley State, Herremans moved to guard and earned the starting spot in 2006. He played well enough to earn a contract extension through 2013, but struggled at times this year, mainly in pass coverage.
At 6-foot-3, 358 pounds, Max Jean-Gilles might eventually compete with Herremans for the starting left guard spot after performing well when he got a chance. Jean-Gilles saw the first action of his career this year against a strong Dallas pass rush and he held his own. He got his first career start at New Orleans in place of Andrews and showed how powerful of a run blocker he is. A former fourth round pick, Jean-Gilles will at least provide the Eagles line with great depth in the future.
Another example of the Eagles finding quality lineman later in the draft is center Jamaal Jackson. Jackson was originally a free agent signee from Delaware State in 2003 and after taking over the starting role for the final eight games of 2005, he has started every game since. He has a strong work ethic (he was on the practice squad his rookie year) and is an unheralded component to the Eagles strong running game. Like most of Philadelphia’s linemen, Jackson is big (6-foot-4, 330 pounds) and he is signed to a long-term deal that will keep him in an Eagle’s uniform through 2013.
Nick Cole is the back up center, and like Jackson, he was also signed as a rookie free agent. The Eagles signed Cole in 2006 out of New Mexico State and he has provided depth to the line and proven to be very versatile. While Cole can fill in for in an injured starter at either guard or center, he is also used as a fullback in short yardage and goal line situations. He should continue to develop after playing in every game this year and even getting to start at guard against the Giants (12/9).
While the Eagles have good depth on their offensive line, they need to keep in mind that both of their starting tackles are over 30 years old and that the back up at that position might not be the answer they are looking for. Also, while the line as a whole did a superb job in the running game, they allowed 44 sacks (the third highest total in the league) and the pass blocking needs to improve for McNabb to stay healthy.
Final Grade: B-
Andrew Pluta can be reached at email@example.com.