Eagles draft outlook: Offensive line

Winston Justice could be competing for the starting right tackle position depending who the Eagles draft. (Clem Murray/Staff file photo)

Continuing the draft outlook series with the offensive line today. If you missed any of the earlier ones:

Running back

Wide receiver

On the roster: Since the offensive line presents a different kind of animal as far as these breakdowns are concerned, let's go position-by-position.

Left tackle: The Eagles are set here with Jason Peters, who had a very strong 2010 campaign. The backup tackles are King Dunlap and Austin Howard. Todd Herremans could slide over also.

Left guard: Another strength of the Birds with Herremans as the starter.

Center: This is where it gets tricky, although really there are only two options right now. If Jamaal Jackson is healthy, the job is likely his. If not, Mike McGlynn will once again be asked to fill in.

Right guard: The most wide-open position on the line. If Jackson is healthy, McGlynn could win this job. Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole are no longer under contract. Each saw action at right guard last season.

Right tackle: Winston Justice was the starter when healthy, but the Eagles could create some competition here.

And here are the rest of the linemen on the roster last year (that were not mentioned above): guard/center Dallas Reynolds, center A.Q. Shipley, tackle Fenuki Tupou, guard Reggie Wells.

Contract situations: Peters signed a monster deal a couple seasons ago that runs through 2014. And Herremans is on the books through 2013, so the left side of the line is in good shape for three more seasons.

Jackson is signed long-term too, through 2013. McGlynn is signed for $555,000 in 2011 before his contract expires. And Justice got a five-year deal in 2009 that runs through 2013.

Draft history: The Eagles have taken the following offensive linemen since Andy Reid became coach: Doug Brzezinski (3rd round, 64th overall in 1999); John Welbourn (4th round, 97th overall in 1999); Bobbie Williams (2nd round, 61st overall in 2000); John Romero (6th round, 192nd overall in 2000); Scott Peters (4th round, 124th overall in 2002); Jeremy Bridges (6th round, 185th overall in 2003); Shawn Andrews (1st round, 16th overall in 2004); Trey Darilek (4th round, 131st overall in 2004); Adrien Clarke (7th round, 227th overall in 2004); Dominic Furio (7th round, 243rd overall in 2004); Todd Herremans (4th round, 126th overall in 2005); Scott Young (5th round, 172nd overall in 2005); Calvin Armstrong (6th round, 211th overall in 2005); Winston Justice (2nd round, 39th overall in 2006); Max Jean-Gilles (4th round, 99th overall in 2006); Mike McGlynn (4th round, 109th overall in 2008); Mike Gibson (6th round, 184th overall in 2008); King Dunlap (7th round, 230th overall in 2008); Fenuki Tupou (5th round, 159th overall in 2009); and Paul Fanaika (7th round, 213th overall in 2009).

The Birds have taken a total of 20 offensive linemen in 12 drafts since 1999. The only years they didn't pick one were 2001, 2007 and 2010. In 2004, the Eagles drafted four O-linemen. From 2004-06, they drafted a total of nine. However, only three of the 20 were taken in the first two rounds: Williams, Andrews and Justice. And only four in the first three rounds (adding Brzezinski).

Workouts/visits: Only four offensive linemen are on my list of reported visits/workouts: Villanova's Ben Ijalana; Utah's Caleb Schlauderaff; Cincinnati's Jason Kelce; and Slippery Rock's Brandon Fusco. This is certainly a position where I wouldn't read too much into the workouts and visits.

How I see it: When looking at the offensive line overall, there are two questions that loom:

1. Do the Eagles coaches believe in Justice as a starter at right tackle for the next several years?
2. This one's a combo: How healthy will Jackson be, and can McGlynn be an above-average starter at guard?

The first question is an interesting one. The contract the Eagles gave Justice in '09 would indicate they believe in him, but benching Justice against the Packers would indicate they do not.

It's important to remember that Justice was obviously injured, and I believe he'll get a fair shake to hold onto that starting job next season. But, as everyone knows by now, right tackle is even more important for the Eagles because it means protecting Michael Vick's blind side.

If the Eagles don't have confidence in Justice, they need to address the right tackle situation either early in the draft or in free agency because I don't think Dunlap is the answer.

As for the second question, I really have no wisdom to offer. And really, it's less important than the first one. Even if Jackson is healthy and the Eagles believe in McGlynn at right guard, they need to add depth, so look for the Birds to pick up an interior lineman (or two?) at some point in the draft or in free agency.

It wouldn't surprise me to see the Eagles take a lineman early, but it's possible that four tackles (USC's Tyron Smith; Colorado's Nate Solder; Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi; and Boston College's Anthony Castonzo) could be off the board by the time they pick.

And keep in mind that for all the issues the Birds had in protection last season, they led the NFC in scoring (27.4 PPG) and set a franchise record for points. In other words, defense is a much bigger priority.

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