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JP’s loss to Eagles— running game is hurt more than pass pro…

As the Lord of Logic has reminded us, we must keep perspective on the loss of All-Pro LT Jason Peters for the 2012 season… Our very own Brizer has cautioned us repeatedly to “expect the unexpected”,  and that the real test of a winning football program in the NFL is its ability to adapt to unforeseen change…

So now the Eagles are put to the test of natural selection…

All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters is done for 2012 due to a torn Achilles tendon suffered in a personal workout in Texas this past Tuesday… and at age 30 it may be difficult to project his ever playing in the NFL again… Sobering news, to be sure…But the Eagles still have time to address the loss in both free agency and the upcoming draft…

You can’t replace Peters… but you can do your best to mitigate the damage…

Peters, 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds, made the Pro Bowl for the fifth time last season. Some NFL analysts considered him to be the best offensive lineman, regardless of position, in the league. Stats LLC reported that Peters surrendered just 2 and-a-half sacks last season and committed no holding penalties. He also was a major force behind running back LeSean McCoy’s success. McCoy rushed for 1,309 yards and scored an NFL-leading 20 touchdowns.

“We all know how much Jason loves to play the game and how much he was looking forward to the start of the 2012 season,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said in a statement Friday. “Jason is one of the best, if not the best, offensive tackles in the NFL.”

“We don’t know when he will return to the field and we will not speculate on a time line,” Reid said of Peters. “We are just going to let the surgical process and the rehabilitation process play itself out.” [Translation= Jason Peters’ career is done…over…caput…]

The Eagles are already auditioning available free agents at LT.

The current crop of free agent tackles includes Demetrius Bell, a former Bill who is ranked No. 50 on Pro Football Weekly’s list of the top 100 free agents. Coincidentally, Bell replaced Peters as the Bills’ starting left tackle in 2009 after the Eagles acquired Peters in a trade.

Ex-New York Giants tackle Kareem McKenzie also is available. And don’t forget Marcus McNeill of the Chargers…

The Eagles could also move right tackle Todd Herremans to the left side, though that switch appears unlikely. Because Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is left-handed, Herremans is called upon to protect Vick’s blind side.

Another option is to plug in King Dunlap, who agreed to terms on a one-year contract Friday, since the Eagles traded former starting right tackle Winston Justice to Indianapolis earlier this month. Dunlap, 6-9 and 330 pounds, spent the previous three seasons with the Eagles after being chosen in the seventh round of the 2008 draft. The 26-year-old has played in 38 games, including seven starts. Last season, he started one game at left tackle and one at left guard in place of injured Peters and Evan Mathis, respectively.

“(Eagles general manager) Howie (Roseman) and I will sort out the roster situation for the offensive line,” Reid said. “We are glad to have King back as a part of our offensive line and we will continue to scan the free-agent market, also knowing the draft is less than a month away.”

My take is concerned more with the running game and the huge holes for LeSean McCoy that Peters was helping to open up on the left side of the field in 2011. Those monster blocks are no longer guaranteed for McCoy.

I could care less about Peters’ pass protection stats… Heck, Vick was on the run more often than not due to his own patented blend of improvisational adjustments to a pass rush… and Vick got hammered way too much because of his own stubborn refusal to give up on a pass play.

Even Jason Peters could not prevent Vick’s own self-destructive tendencies at times. But Peters sure as hell influenced the running game…and his adaptation to zone-blocking and his commitment to downfield blocking helped make Shady McCoy’s all-star quality running results of 2011 a  reality…

That to me is the biggest impact of losing Jason Peters at LT— a real dent in the running game spectrum of possibilities for LeSean McCoy.

Hopefully that dented scenario will not play out… hopefully we can patch’n’plug a huge cavern of doubt in the OL architecture of the Eagles. It’s not impossible…

The Eagles are now left with a hole at the left tackle position. It’s a six-foot-four, 340-pound hole…with a mythic proportion of technique, willpower and professional commitment that is immeasurable.

This is not the end of the world, and the Eagles still have four capable linemen in Mathis, Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins, and Herremans from left to right. But there is now a huge hole on the left side, one the Eagles could look to fill in free agency or the draft. Not only could they look to fill it there, they should. Marcus McNeill and Demetrius Bell are the two best remaining free agent tackles, and maybe the best remaining free agents overall. If the Eagles can’t fill the hole in the next week, then a high draft pick could be used on a tackle.

That’s far from a guarantee for Andy Reid and company, who often throw us for a loop in the draft. But it wouldn’t be surprising.

Peters had emerged as one of the best left tackles in the game, and excelled in both the pass game and run game. The holes he opened up last season allowed McCoy to have a career season. Not only did he open up holes for McCoy in the run game, he did it for Vick as well. Peters’ downfield blocking is some of the best in the league, and throwing screen passes to McCoy and letting Peters go to work to clear the way downfield was a pleasure to watch last season. We won’t be seeing any of that in 2012.

Can someone like McNeill or Bell be an asset to the Eagles? Sure, and they are both better options than Dunlap or anyone else currently on the roster. Yes, the Eagles have moved Herremans to the left side before, but that has a zero percent chance of happening because Vick is a left-handed quarterback. They need Herremans to protect his blind side, so Todd will stay at right tackle.

And suddenly offensive linemen—specifically left tackles— are in prime-time on the Eagles’ Draft radar. USC’s Matt Kalil, Stanford’s Jonathan Martin and Iowa’s Riley Reiff are considered the top three prospects at that position heading into the draft. Kalil is expect to go in the top five, so the Eagles would have to make a dramatic move from 15th to get him. Martin and/or Reiff could still be there at No.15.

It’s a new challenge just when everything seemed to be falling in place and going to plan for the Eagles— but we will get through this.

Notable Transactions through March 31, 2012…

—Raiders sign LB Phillip Wheeler (Colts) to a 1-year deal, terms undisclosed…
—St. Louis signed OT Robert Turner (Jets) to a 1-year contract, terms undisclosed…
—49ers waived WR Dontavia Bogan
—Oakland acquired RB Mike Goodson (Panthers) in exchange for T/G Bruce Campbell
—Carolina re-signed DE/OLB Antwan Applewhite to a 1-year contract, terms undisclosed…

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.

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