Eagles' offensive line needs focus

A healthy Jamaal Jackson could be critical next year for the Eagles. (David Maialetti/Staff File Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Offensive linemen are pushing steel bars and sprinting 40 yards today as the physical side of the NFL Combine gets underway with a position – you may have heard – that the Eagles could be eyeing in the draft.

The Eagles obviously need better line talent and will be looking for speed, strength and technique. But it's not just quickness and power the Eagles should seek. The offensive line could benefit dramatically from an infusion of focus.

Except at right guard, the Eagles line overall has decent physical ability – not elite, but not terrible, either. Todd Herremans was very good and Jason Peters showed at the end of the season that he has the ability to shut down pass rushers one-on-one. But Peters' inconsistency early in the season points to a lack of play-in-play-out concentration. Winston Justice is athletic, but doesn’t seem to have the mean streak to make the most of his ability.

And then there was center, where you have to wonder how much Mike McGlynn’s inexperience with line calls contributed to the overall struggles up front. It’s hard to tell from the outside when quarterback pressure is a result of a center making the wrong call or whether a teammate simply missed an assignment, but talking to a couple fellow Eagles writers last night we immediately recalled the misstep against the Titans, when McGlynn went the wrong direction. It made us wonder how many times Mike Vick was hit because of poor adjustments that affect the entire blocking scheme.

Add up all that inconsistency and you have a line that had several potential breaking points on every pass play. There was nowhere you could look and say “that spot is airtight.” A leak was possible from any angle, and when one got plugged, another tended to spring open.

Here’s where Howard Mudd’s hiring and Jamaal Jackson’s return could be critical. Mudd has a stellar record as an offensive line coach and the Eagles have to hope he can coax more consistency out of his men.

Jackson has never been a Pro Bowler, but his experience in the middle could help pull the line together. It’s worrisome that he has suffered serious injuries in each of the last two games he played in, though general manager Howie Roseman said Wednesday that the veteran is now fully healthy.

It’s widely expected that he’ll be joined by some new talent on the line. Those prospects are at work today lifting weights and sprinting distances they’ll almost never run in a game (though the Eagles do love running their men downfield on screens, so maybe we should keep an eye on their 40 times). The Eagles should look just as closely at their mental make up and game-in game-out performance level as they decide how to act in April's draft.

The media isn’t allowed into the linemen workouts, so we get the same television view here in Indianapolis that all of you enjoy at home. For what it’s worth, Syracuse center Ryan Bartholomew led the way in the bench press, lifting 225 pounds 34 times. Penn State’s Stefen Wisniewski, who we wrote about today, put up 30 reps, which tied him for sixth. Gabe Carimi and Tyron Smith, each considered two of the top tackles in the draft, lifted 29 times each.

Bartholomew also did well in the 40, finishing second with a time of 4.97. Cincinnati's Jason Kelce finished first at 4.93, though 40 times aren't exactly critical for linemen.

As we wrote earlier in the week, Howie Roseman sees a deep draft class on the offensive line. There are five tackles who could go in the first round – though Smith, reportedly has dropped out of the Combine after the bench press. Interior linemen such as Wisniewski, Mike Pouncey, Danny Watkins, Clint Boling and Jah Reed have also drawn praise from draft scouts.

Odd combine note: As the bench presses begin, NFL Network flashed a graphic showing the top benching performances in recent years. Two Eagles were tied for second: defensive tackles Jeff Owens and Brodrick Bunkley each up the bar up 44 times. Three others have done it 45.

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