In the spring of 2009 the Eagles made an exciting trade, acquiring left tackle Jason Peters from the Buffalo Bills. Andy Reid referred to him as the best left tackle in the league. Most people (fans and media) thought that was just Reid's pro-Eagles hyperbole. Right now, I think a lot of people would agree with the comment - Peters is the best left tackle in the NFL.
Peters time in Philly hasn't been 100 percent smooth sailing. He was slow to adjust to Juan Castillo's (remember when he was just the OL coach?) style of blocking. That was a vertical system. Blockers gave ground to rushers and then were expected to engage and anchor, creating a stable pocket for the quarterback. Peters hadn't played in such a system while in Buffalo. Learning to kick-slide and retreat took time.
There were a few people who questioned Peters' toughness. He would get dinged up in a game and leave for a few plays. Heck, me might go out the rest of the game. As outsiders, we didn't know what was going on. We just knew that for the previous nine years Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan almost never left the game. Those guys played while in a lot of pain and they got the job done. Peters had cost the Eagles a first round pick and a hefty contract. There were a few people who wondered how wise a deal that was.
By the middle of 2010, Peters had really started to get the feel of things. In December he played his best game as an Eagle. That was a game against Dallas. Peters kept the Dallas pass rushers off Michael Vick. Late in the game, the Eagles ran to Peters' side over and over and he made some crushing blocks as LeSean McCoy and the offense ran out the clock. Life was good.
In the offseason, Howard Mudd was hired to be the new line coach. Mudd is famous for liking smaller players. Some wondered how he and Peters would get along. What those people failed to realize is that Mudd doesn't care how big players are. He wants athletic linemen. 99 percent of athletic linemen are going to be smaller guys. There are exceptions. Peters is one of those.
I remember watching Peters at Arkansas back in 2003. He was a tight end, who spent a lot of time beside right tackle Shawn Andrews. Those two were devastating run blockers. I wrote up very good draft notes on Andrews, but also was fascinated by Peters. He was a 300-pound tight end, but wasn't just a fat guy. Peters would make these nimble moves that would blow you away. I expected him to get drafted, even though he was a project. Look at these comments I wrote on him from back then:
* Jason Peters, TE - ARK - Jason is mammoth. 6'4, 336. He is a good athlete. Light on his feet. Soft hands. I watched him in a game vs. South Carolina. He caught a few balls. On one catch, he made the grab and then juked a LB and got upfield to gain extra yards. On another catch he tip-toed down the sideline. He won't be a great TE, but could be a real specialized weapon. Has the potential to be a good OT. He's a good pass blocker, but isn't as good a drive blocker as I expected.
* TE Jason Peters is a guy I've mentioned before. Goes 6'4 , 336. Could very well be a LT. The previous game I took in left me with the impression that he was a bit on the passive side. Glad I watched some more tape. He was a good aggressive blocker vs LSU. He drove SLB Eric Alexander about 8 yds downfield. Eric had to spin to get off the block (and to his credit made the tackle). On a passing play Jason was lined up beside the LT. The LSU DE took an inside slant on the LT. Peters stepped forward and shoved him from the side. The DE went down and also took out the DT beside him. They looked like bowling pins. Would've taken out the other DT, but he was just out of the way. Hilarious play. One block and half the pass rush was gone.
Don't be fooled by Jason's size. He is very light on his feet and looks pretty agile for a guy with that size body. Could be a backup TE for a year or two before moving to OT.
Peters has thrived in Mudd's system. Peters is no longer giving ground in pass protection. He can now fire off the ball and engage the rusher right at the line of scrimmage. Why give the defense free yards? Make them earn every inch. One reason Peters looks so good in the new system is that he played in a similar scheme while with the Bills. He's really going back to something he knows pretty well.
Mudd brought a sprint draw play to the offense. This is where Peters has really excelled. At the snap he invites the pass rusher into the backfield. Peters does this by stepping back and not getting his hands on the guy. Once the rusher has come up a couple of steps, Peters gives him a shove, using the guy's own momentum to take him out of the play. Peters then fires upfield and blocks a linebacker. This seals off inside pursuit and creates a running lane for McCoy.
The other play where Peters has jumped out at you this year is the wide receiver screen. Peters takes off running and gets out in space. He's fast enough to get down the field and be helpful. Peters is nimble enough to block moving targets. He's also mean enough to bully smarter defenders. Some athletic blockers aren't all that physical. Peters wants to punish guys when he can.
Peters has impressed anyone who has watched him. Chris Collinsworth has raved about him on three Sunday night games. In the last one, Peters just shut down Osi Umenyiora and basically made him irrelevant. Peters is special because he does so many things well. He can pass block. He can run block. He can get out and block in space. You might go so far as to say he's a weapon that you can gameplan around. Mike Mayock did the Eagles last game and mentioned that Peters had Hall of Fame ability. That's one heck of an endorsement.
Tra Thomas was a terrific left tackle for years. He was a very good pass blocker and the Eagles won a lot of games with him protecting Donovan McNabb's blind side. Thomas wasn't the same kind of player as Peters. Thomas wasn't a great run blocker. He wasn't consistently good at blocking out in space on screen passes. I hope people appreciate the fact that Thomas was good, but that Peters is special.
Peters isn't perfect. He still has too many penalties. He's so quick off the ball that it leads to more false starts than you want from a player of his caliber. He also has missed time each year. You can't fault the guy for getting hurt, but it is a factor in assessing just how good he is.
The Eagles have gained a lot of new fans in the Reid era. Winning games and having great players like McNabb and Vick will do that. These fans know only of Thomas and Peters. Older Eagles fans remember when the Eagles left tackle was an overachiever that you hoped could get the job done. Guys like Ron Heller and Barrett Brooks were "good enough", but were nowhere close to stars like Thomas and Peters.
Peters will turn 30 in January, but he's at the top of his game. I think he can realistically play several more years at a high level. It helps that he is in a system that lets him play at his best. He's able to take advantage of his unique skills. Enjoy him while you can. Great talents like him are rare.
Sadly, Peters great season is getting overshadowed by the Eagles 4-8 record. He's needs help in the Pro Bowl voting. Go here to vote for Jason. And throw in a vote for Colt Anderson as the best special teams player. He deserves that honor.