The Philadelphia Eagles offensive line had a very difficult season in 2007. After giving up only 28 sacks in 2007, the line gave up 49 in 2008 and ranked 29th in the league. The most difficult game was in week 4 against the New York Giants when starting LT Tra Thomas was injured and the line gave up 12 sacks. The Eagles returned the same five starters as in 2006 but McNabb’s lack of mobility and the poor play in the middle of the line were the reasons for the increase in sacks allowed. On top of the 49 sacks allowed, another concern was the 50 rushing attempts by McNabb which show that he had to scramble out of the pocket more often than he wanted to.
The tackle position which was a strength for the Eagles for so many years is slowly becoming weaker. Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan should return as the starters for the 8th consecutive season. Thomas is a very big and strong lineman at 6’7″ and 335 lbs who has been pretty durable since being drafted by the Eagles in 1998. His great strength makes him an excellent run blocker but he has never been very quick and it is has become more obvious now that he is 33 years old. The Eagles were one of the best in the NFL when running to the left side and Thomas was a big reason for that success. Jon Runyan is very similar to Thomas; he is durable and is also very big at 6’7” and 330 lbs. Runyan has not missed a game in 11 NFL seasons but played through injuries for most of the 2007 season. He is a decent blocker who, like Thomas, has lost a step and is starting to struggle in pass protection against speedy defensive ends. The Eagles drafted Winston Justice in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft, a player that many saw as the left tackle of the future for the Eagles. Justice was however humiliated by Osi Umenyiora in his first and only NFL start in 2007. It is unfair to evaluate Justice based on that performance alone but it was obvious that he lacked quickness. He is still a very solid blocker and played much better when he replaced Runyan in the final game of the 2007 season against the Bills. Justice should be a solid player as he gains experience but he is likely a much better fit at right tackle, the position he played at USC. The Eagles added Mike McGlynn in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. McGlynn is a strong lineman with excellent awareness and good work ethic but who struggles against speedy rushers. He played right tackle in college but is likely a better fit at guard in the NFL so it remains to be seen how the Eagles will use him.
At guard, the Eagles have a much younger duo in Todd Herremans and Shawn Andrews. Herremans should be the starting left guard for the Eagles for a third consecutive season. He had a very difficult season in 2007 mainly due to a knee injury that bothered him throughout the year. Herremans underwent surgery during the team’s bye week and did not miss a single start but it was obvious that he was not at full strength. There is no doubt that Herremans will have to be better in 2008 if he wants to keep his starting job but if he is healthy, there is no reason why he should not be as solid as he was in 2006. On the other side is Shawn Andrews who has been named to two straight Pro Bowls after only four seasons in the NFL. He had a disappointing season in 2007 because of a nagging ankle injury but is still one of the top five guards in the NFL. Andrews is both strong and athletic at 6’4” and 335 lbs and an asset for this line both in run blocking and pass protection. His main quality is his athleticism which allows him to pull to the outside on screen plays and he makes Westbrook even more dangerous. Max Jean-Gilles has been a backup guard since being drafted in the fourth round in 2006 but could very well win the starting left guard position in camp. He is a very powerful blocker at 6’3” and 360 lbs with excellent work ethic and he will continue to improve as he gains experience. If he does not win the job over Herremans this year, he could get more playing time next year as either Herremans or Andrews could move to tackle. The Eagles selected Mike Gibson in the sixth round of the 2008 draft to provide depth and also have former fifth round pick Scott Young on the roster but both are likely career backups.
The Eagles will start Jamaal Jackson at center for the third consecutive season. Jackson who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2003 was rewarded with a seven-year deal in 2006. He had a difficult season in 2007 mainly because of the number of penalties called against him. He is very big for a center at 6’4” and 330 lbs which can cause him trouble at times in pass blocking but it allows him to open up big holes in the running game. Nick Cole is the backup center and also has the ability to play guard. He is another very big lineman who is a solid run blocker but will struggle in pass protection. Cole is likely a career backup but is still very useful because of his ability to play on special teams.
The Eagles line had a very difficult season in 2007 and will be returning all five starters. There should however be much more competition along the line with Jean-Gilles and Justice having one more year of experience. The struggles in 2007 were mainly due to poor play by Herremans and Jackson as well as Runyan and Thomas who are starting to slow down. Herremans should improve in 2008 now that his knee is recovered but Runyan and Thomas will continue to slow down. The Eagles are a very big line which focuses on power blocking and counts on McNabb to escape from pressure in passing situations. McNabb’s lack of mobility in 2007 therefore made the line’s weaknesses much more evident. The line has good depth but could struggle if Thomas or Andrews are hurt. Overall this unit should look better in 2008 with a healthy McNabb and hopefully an improved inside play after disappointing seasons by Herremans and Jackson.
August 4, 2008 – Pro Bowl RG Shawn Andrews is not in training camp because of undisclosed personal reasons. The exact reason for his absence is unknown and if he remains away for too long this could become a concern. Max Jean-Gilles who was expected to compete with Herremans for the LG spot is stepping in on the right side and doing an adequate job. If Andrews is still not in camp two weeks from now this will become a concern for Westbrook but for now all we can do is wait.
August 20, 2008 – Shawn Andrews is back in camp and has said that he was suffering from depression. it is very goodnews that he is back and he should be ready for the opener.