After a disappointing season in 2007, Todd Herremans has been on the hot seat this summer and will need to show great improvement in training camp if he wants to return to his position as the starter at left guard for the third consecutive year. Herremans made a smooth transition to guard in his second year in the league after playing tackle as a rookie in 2005, but he regressed last season and was overmatched too often.
Head coach Andy Reid made the situation clear in the off-season after the annual owner's meetings when he said, "[Herremans] has to do a better job than he did last year."
Herremans' biggest problem last year was a breakdown in his blocking technique and execution, which caused him to lose leverage on the line and allowed opposing defenders to get to quarterback Donovan McNabb, who was sacked 44 times last season. He has to be given some credit for playing through injury and not missing a single game after having arthroscopic knee surgery, but if he is going to be on the field, the bottom line is that the coaching staff needs to see more production.
At 6-foot-6, 321 pounds, Herremans brings tackle-like size to interior of the Eagles offensive line and he uses his large frame well. The former Division II All-American from Saginaw Valley State shows good athletic ability when pulling on running plays, and he engulfs defenders if he can get good contact when engaging. Herremans has shown in the past that he has the ability to be a solid starter, but as a four-year veteran, he needs to show the same consistency from week to week.
If Herremans continues to struggle in training camp, the Eagles have third-year pro Max Jean-Gilles patiently waiting for his opportunity to shine. Jean-Gilles got valuable on-the-job experience last season, seeing action in four games and getting his first career start against New Orleans in week 16 in place of an injured Shawn Andrews. When the former fourth-round pick out of Georgia got the chance to play, he performed well, and he made a positive impression on the coaching staff by holding his own against a strong Cowboys defense in week 15.
A durable lineman who never missed a game during his collegiate career due to injury, Jean-Gilles was a late-round steal when the Eagles drafted him in 2006, and he has the build and athletic ability to dominate in the trenches when he is at the top of his game. He uses his 6-foot-3, 358-pound frame especially well when run blocking, and his lower body strength enables him to drive opposing defenders off the line-of-scrimmage and open up holes. Although he probably needs a little more experience with pass blocking schemes and picking up blitzes, Jean-Gilles proved that he can play at the NFL-level last season, and if he continues to improve, it will be hard for the coaches to keep him off the field.
Scott Young is also a candidate to battle for the left guard spot on the Eagles offensive line, but he might have hurt his standing with the team when he failed to show up for voluntary workouts in early June. A four-year veteran from BYU, Young has been a valuable backup over the last few seasons and has seen action in 13 games since being selected in the fifth-round of the 2005 draft, but he has yet to show the kind of consistent play that would earn him a starting role.
At 6-foot-4, 312-pounds, Young is not as massive as the Eagles' other guards, but he has earned a reputation as a strong and powerful player since bench pressing 225-pounds 43 times at his rookie combine. His aggressive style of play is similar to that of fellow lineman Jon Runyan, who has never been accused of being a nice guy on the field but gets respect because of his willingness to throw down for his teammates. Young's biggest weakness at this point is staying in games mentally, but that could be a result of having played on the defensive side of the ball up until his senior year at BYU. One of his worst performances came in a 2006 playoff game against New Orleans, where he was flagged for two costly penalties in the fourth quarter, one of which was a false start that came on a fourth-and-ten situation and put the Eagles out of scoring range.
After working hard to improve his strength and technique in the off-season, Herremans will likely get a chance to remain with the first-team, but his time as a starter could be cut short if he falters, or if Jean-Gilles continues to develop. Whether he stays on the left side will have to be determined in the future, but Jean-Gilles looks to be too good of a player to remain on the sidelines in Philadelphia for much longer. On the other hand, Young seems to be more fit for a role as a reserve and should be more of a role player while he is still with the team.
Andrew Pluta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org