The two worst parts of the 2010 Eagles were the offensive line and defense. Both groups are under new management. There will be changes. Heads will roll.
Okay, maybe that's a bit melodramatic, but I do think the basic point is true. Players shouldn't feel safe just because they started in 2010. Both units under-performed. Players who played at a high level are fine. Young players will be given some leeway. Everyone else should have the attitude that their job is on the line.
Let's start by talking about the offensive line. Jason Peters is the left tackle. There aren't any questions about that. He played great in the second half of 2010. Part of that was him finally getting fully comfortable in Juan Castillo's system. Now he's got to change. The good news is that the way Howard Mudd likes his tackles to block is something that Peters did in his days up in Buffalo. There will be an adjustment period, but it should be quick since he's just re-learning an old way of doing things. This won't be completely new.
Todd Herremans is the left guard. He isn't on the same level as Peters, but is entrenched at his position. Herremans has been a solid starter for years. The Eagles have hoped he would take the next step and become a Pro Bowl type of player, but that has yet to happen on a weekly basis. There are times when Herremans is terrific, but consistency is the hallmark of really good players.
Beyond those two, no one is safe. Winston Justice will start out as the right tackle, but he's got to fight to keep that job. Justice should handle Mudd's system well. Justice has the size and athleticism to play in any system. Being healthy will be crucial for him. Justice also needs to show his competitive side. He wasn't challenged in the summer of 2010 and that might have hurt him. This year he'll battle King Dunlap and Austin Howard for the job. Dunlap has a legit shot to beat him out. Howard is a longshot.
There is no real incumbent at right guard so that spot is wide open. Rookie Danny Watkins will likely start off atop the depth chart. He's definitely the player the Eagles want to have that job. They've told him that and Watkins has the maturity to handle the situation. Some young players might come in complacent if they knew they were likely starters. Not Watkins. He'll be fired up and ready to go.
Center is the most interesting position on the line. Jamaal Jackson held the position from the middle of 2005 through the end of 2009. Injuries cost him the end of the 2009 season and all but half of one game in 2010. Mike McGlynn filled in for him for the rest of 2010. McGlynn was okay for a young player, but didn't grab hold of the role the way that Hank Fraley or Jackson did when they got a chance to start.
Dave Spadaro recently speculated that we could be in for a surprise at center. "Mudd has had success with athletic, quick offensive linemen and it makes me wonder if either Jamaal Jackson or Mike McGlynn is exactly what Mudd is looking for at the center position. The kind of player he is looking for is really, really important here. "
Is it possible that Dallas Reynolds, A.Q. Shipley or rookie Jason Kelce will be a given a shot to start in the middle this season? That doesn't seem likely, but you have to remember that Mudd has never coached any of these guys. Castillo had certain feelings for certain players. All coaches do. Since Mudd is new everyone gets a clean slate.
As crazy as this notion is, let's look back to something I wrote for SB Nation Philly after Mudd's hiring.
"The one player on the roster who may benefit the most is A.Q. Shipley. He fits the Mudd profile to a tee. It is hard not to compare him to Jeff Saturday, the long time center of the Colts. Saturday had basically given up on the NFL when he was invited to camp by the Colts. He went and turned out to be an ideal fit for Mudd and his system. Saturday has been a fixture in Indy for more than a decade. Shipley spent time on the practice squad in Pittsburgh and then the Eagles last year. Shipley isn't the biggest, strongest, or most athletic blocker in the world, but he does have some potential. Mudd will work with him and give Shipley every chance in the world. If McGlynn does move to right guard full time, that could open up a spot for Shipley on the roster. This will be a critical year for him. "
I wish I did know what was going to happen up front, but I don't. I do have to stress that with a new coach comes the possibility of change. He will feel no allegiance to any players. He'll choose those guys who best fit his system.
Castillo will be the same way on defense. It would be really hard for Jim Johnson or Sean McDermott to let Quintin Mikell leave as a free agent. Castillo and Mikell have no special relationship so letting him walk isn't as big a deal. Castillo is committed to Jaiquawn Jarrett long term. Some veteran may be brought in for 2011, but he'd just be keeping the seat warm for Jarrett.
Castillo will have that attitude all over the defense. Aside from Trent Cole, Asante Samuel, Nate Allen, and maybe Antonio Dixon, no one is guaranteed anything. Mike Patterson has been a really good player for several years, but he's got to report in good shape to keep his starting position. Castillo would love to give him a chance in the new system. Patterson has to be lighter, maybe under 320 pounds, in order to really be effective. Maybe even less than that. Brodrick Bunkley has been a disappointment in the last two years, but he gets a clean slate. Trevor Laws made a ton of progress last year. He'll get a chance to show what he can do, but he won't necessarily have any positive momentum coming with him from 2010. A clean slate isn't always a good thing.
Who will be at left end? Jim Washburn may not see a starter on the roster (due to Brandon Graham's injury). Washburn may see plenty of role players, but not someone he believes in as a starter. Castillo has coached against these players in practice and will have some feel for them, but he and Washburn will have some tough decisions to make. Does Juqua Parker belong as a starter? Does Darryl Tapp deserve a chance to start? Should the team go after a free agent?
Linebacker is the biggest mystery of them all. Depending on what deal is made between the owners and NFLPA, Stewart Bradley could be a free agent. The Eagles will not get in a bidding war for his services. Bradley was ideal for the previous system where linebackers could attack downhill on a regular basis. He's athletic enough to play in the new system, but isn't such a great fit that the Eagles will feel pressure to keep him at all costs.
Jamar Chaney could start in the middle. Or on the weak side. I do think he'll start somewhere, but nothing is certain. The reason I say that is that a handful of good games won't be enough to guarantee him a spot with new coaches running the defense. Chaney showed a lot of ability in the games he started. I anticipate him starting somewhere and playing well, but Chaney must stay focused and have the attitude that he's proven nothing.
The Eagles drafted three linebackers. Those are guys that Castillo, Washburn, and linebacker coach Mike Caldwell all wanted. I think Casey Matthews could challenge for a starting job under the right circumstances. Brian Rolle and Greg Lloyd seem more like role players for now, but don't tell them that. Both of them will come to Philadelphia hoping to show they belong in the NFL and deserve some playing time. The new defensive coaches won't have any allegiance to Bradley, Chaney, or Moise Fokou. Those players have to show they fit the system and are ready to fight for their jobs.
Stability is generally a good thing, but there are times when change is necessary. The Eagles made the coaching and schematic changes. The new coaches will give the players a chance to show what they can do. Everyone is starting with a clean slate. Veterans have to prove themselves. Young players get an opportunity to show what they can do. Everyone is on equal footing. Let's hope the competition brings out the best in everyone.