Eagles thrilled to have Peters back
IN ONE MAN'S eyes, a ruptured Achilles' tendon altered the course of NFL history.
Jason Peters missed the 2012 season, a 4-12 debacle that ended Andy Reid's 14-year run as Eagles head coach. The offensive line he anchored at left tackle crumpled without him. The team, predicated on an explosive offense, disintegrated.
Peters twice ruptured his right Achilles' tendon in the offseason. He proved irreplaceable.
"I'd say it cost us a playoff spot," Peters said of his absence. "It cost us our coach."
That is a grandiose assessment, but, perhaps, accurate.
Peters was the best player on an offense that set team scoring records in 2009 and 2010, with different quarterbacks each season.
He had gone to five straight Pro Bowls. He was regarded as the best tackle in the game, if not the best lineman.
He easily is the best player on Chip Kelly's new offense, and, very likely, he is the best player on the team.
"I agree with that," Peters said. "It starts with the offensive and defensive lines. When one of the key pieces is missing, the units tend to struggle."
True, Peters' absence comprised just a piece of the shattered puzzle that ended Reid's reign. Three other linemen eventually fell to injury without adequate reserves; the undermanned defense foundered; and spurious coaching appointments over a 2-year span left the team ripe for regression.
True, it is much easier to quantify the loss of a top-notch quarterback or a featured running back.
Consider this, though: According to the website www.footballoutsiders.com, the Eagles ranked seventh in the league rushing to the left end in 2011. They ranked 23rd last season. They gave up 32 sacks in 2011; 48 last season.
Peters heard those numbers, and he winced.
"I'd be sitting at home, or sometimes I was at the games, in the press box; it was hard to watch that," Peters said. "Watching the unit, everybody doesn't see what I see. They just see a sack. I'm watching how the sack happened. I know all that."
They will be better this season, he promised. The three other injured players returned, the Eaglers replaced the weak link at right guard and bolstered it with first-round right tackle Lane Johnson.
All will take cues from Peters; after all, he is the template for the new position coach.
Jeff Stoutland constructed a historically outstanding line at Alabama, and, when he arrived in Philadelphia this spring, he could not wait to tell the world how he used Peters as a teaching tool, both when Peters played with the Bills and with the Eagles.
"I coached my players in college off of his pro film," Stoutland said. "I've got Buffalo Bills film in my office filled with Jason Peters."
Peters is accustomed to looking some of the meanest men on the planet straight in the eye for 60 minutes. He could barely face that sort of praise.
"When 'Stout' told me that, it just made me work harder, knowing a college coach showed his offensive line how to block and set like me," Peters said.
Peters was a tight end in college. He had never played tackle until the Bills signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2004. He spent that season learning the line, always diligent, always emulating Hall of Fame talent.
"I also watched Anthony Munoz, and Walter Jones, Jonathan Ogden, guys like that," said Peters, whose inexperience qualified him to become a walking textbook. "I still watch those guys. I didn't have any bad habits. I was always learning. I'm still learning; how to beat techniques of defensive ends, and stuff like that."
When line coach Howard Mudd arrived in 2011 it took Peters more than 2 months of the season to acclimate himself to Mudd's unique techniques. The team went 3-6. The Eagles won five of their last seven games. Peters went to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl.
Between Buffalo and Philadelphia, Mudd was Peters' fourth line coach in five seasons.
"Every offensive line coach wants a certain kind of set line. It's kind of hard adjusting. Once you get comfortable in one type, here comes another offensive line coach," Peters said.
Well, Stoutland is Coach No. 5, in seven seasons.
"Will it take me a couple of months to get used to Stout? Not really," Peters said. "He's teaching me the same stuff he showed his players. He doesn't want to change me."
It should not minimize Peters' value that he will not be protecting the blindside of his quarterback. Michael Vick is a rare lefthanded passer, and teams usually play their best pass rusher on the right side of the defensive line, across from the left tackle.
"I'll still be blocking the best defensive end every week," Peters said, "and if he beats you, he's going to get the sack."
That carries more weight, considering Vick's idiosyncrasies.
"I still feel like I'm the blindside guy with Mike, because Mike's always looking downfield, and he's always scooting to his left," Peters said. "That's right: Mike tends to drift to the left, so he gets a little closer to the left side of the line than (righthanders) do."
That serves to underscore Peters' value, if it needed underscoring. He is, after all, making $10.75 million this season, about 25 percent more than the next highest-paid players, Vick and receiver DeSean Jackson. Teams typically pay their best players the most money.
He's worked hard for that money.
He ruptured his Achilles' tendon while working out in March 2012, then reinjured it when his rolling walking aid collapsed (he sued the manufacturer and won $2 million). Faced with the specter of free agency, advancing age and the increased demands on his 31-year-old body in Kelly's up-tempo offense, Peters lost 25 pounds in the past 6 months.
"I'm down to 325 now, just to give me that edge to keep going and keep going if I ever need it," he said. "I just have to adjust to the tempo of it. If you're downfield, you have to get back to the line of scrimmage and run another play."
He will be asked to do more than ever, but this is a man athletic enough to play on special teams as a young player.
"He's an outstanding talent and a terrific player, and I'm looking forward to watching him work and do his thing, because I think he has the skill and the ability. Based on how he's trained, I think he's got a chance to be dominant," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "He's a freak."
He will need to be.
Vick will have the ball every play. Running back LeSean McCoy will be used without mercy. Jackson will pose a deep threat, tight end Brent Celek will be Vick's primary outlet and Jason Avant might have a career year in the slot.
None of them will matter unless Peters plays well.
On Twitter: @inkstainedretch