John Smallwood: For Eagles, troubles begin along offensive line

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The Eagles' offensive line has been inconsistent so far in the preseason. (David Maialetti/Staff file photo)

THIS MIGHT LOOK like the same situation the Eagles faced last year when the projected offensive line couldn't get together for one single preseason snap.

It isn't.

This is a bigger concern.

Last season, before the season played out, the Eagles at least had hope that all would be fine once the starters got together for the season opener.

They were counting on players with proven track records.

Remember, before the season played out, guard Shawn Andrews was expected to return to Pro Bowl form.

Left tackle Jason Peters, whom the Birds acquired for a first-round pick, was considered one of the best in the game.

Tackle Stacy Andrews was a big-ticket free agent.

Center Jamaal Jackson and guard Todd Herremans were established starters.

It turned out to be fool's gold as the season played on, but beforehand, there was enough there to think it would work.

There are not many reasons to be that optimistic this season.

The problems with this offensive line and the domino effect it could have are frightening.

Forget about the development of quarterback Kevin Kolb and running back LeSean McCoy or the potential explosiveness of receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Nothing will work if the offensive line can't come together.

I'm not sure whether offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg meant for this to be taken this way, but he was extremely insightful yesterday when he said: "I've never seen an offense that was any good at all, that wasn't really good up front, and, by that, I mean playing together as a unit and being very consistent.

"That offensive line is important to every football team, certainly ours."

The results through the first three preseason games have not been encouraging.

The line play has been so inconsistent that you'd like to see the starters play more than a little bit in Thursday's preseason finale with the New York Jets, but that won't happen.

Unlike last season - before the season played out - there is no reason to have a sense of optimism that things will simply come together once they get on the field together.

If you said a year ago that right tackle Winston Justice was the one player you could hang your hat on about the offensive line, you'd think the season was going to be a disaster.

But Justice, who had been behind the eight ball since his notoriously bad first start in 2007, stepped in at right tackle when Stacy Andrews couldn't get it done last season, and was reliable in all 16 starts.

Justice and Herremans, despite some nagging minor injuries, are linemen with whom you can be comfortable, but that's it.

Stacy Andrews is now struggling with the switch from tackle to guard to replace his brother, Shawn, who was released in March and signed this month with the New York Giants.

Mornhinweg said: "I'm not going to get into anybody starting or any of that stuff. It's too far off," when asked who would start at right guard in the first game.

With Jamaal Jackson still recovering from major knee surgery and backup center Nick Cole not playing much because of a knee injury, the Birds have relied almost exclusively on third-year man Mike McGlynn.

Jamaal Jackson, who just returned to practice, took every repetition with the first-team offense yesterday and the Eagles seem intent on pushing the envelope to get him ready for the season opener.

As a three-time Pro Bowl selection, Peters would seem to be the guy to look to in times of adversity.

Instead, he's been the worst offender.

He doesn't have an excuse of injury for some of his issues during the preseason.

You don't expect a player of his ability and stature to have the lapses of concentration and discipline Peters has displayed.

And as much as it is a concern that the starting unit has not been able to do much together, thinking about who will step in if the need arises is an even bigger concern.

What have Max Jean-Gilles, King Dunlap, A.Q. Shipley, Austin Howard or Fenuki Tupou shown that make you think they can answer the call?

Depth on the offensive line is almost as rare as depth at quarterback in the NFL.

Any offensive lineman who displays a modicum of ability either will be kept by the team or placed on its practice squad.

There is no second option if these guys can't play.

Coach speak is the best way to describe the Eagles' current conversations about the offensive line.

"Well, I can't put a time factor on that," Mornhinweg said when asked how long it took for him to feel comfortable with the offensive line last season. "However, I will say everything we do is important and every play in practice that we do on the field is important, certainly the classroom work.

"There is no substitute for that. Hard work and preparation, we have to get it in, and that offensive line is [getting it in]."

It just hasn't been getting that work in together, and that could become a huge issue.

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