NOT A SURPRISE - O-LINE WILL DECIDE EAGLES SUCCESS OR FAILURE IN 2021
The Eagles suffered through a cringeworthy 4-11-1 season in 2020.
It was often said that if there was a season where fans could not show up because of a Pandemic, then this was the season.
The Super Bowl winning head coach, Doug Pedersen, was fired along with most of his staff.
The quarterback who regressed, throughout the season, was traded to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Birds surrendered a league worst 65 sacks, 16 more than the Texans gave up to Deshaun Watson.
I am old enough to recall Jimmy Johnson's first year as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. I had just departed the Cowboys for the Colts that year and had a lot of friends that were on that inaugural campaign of Coach Johnson.
Troy Aikman, was the first pick of the 1989 draft and helped the Cowboys to a miserable 1-15 season. The only win coming in Washington at RFK Stadium in DC.
I mention the '89 Cowboys in comparison to the 2020 Birds for one reason. They shared a common thread. Deep in the recesses of those lost years was the proverbial "Phoenix" that would be the foundation for future success.
The Offensive Line had talent in both cases.
In 1989 the Cowboys had Nate Newton, Mark Tuinei, Kevin Gogen and others who received a lot of valuable starts and playing time. They would eventually draft Mark Stepnowski and the foundation to three future Super Bowl Championship teams was the league's best and deepest offensive line.
Last year the Birds played a league high 14 different offensive line combinations. Lots of young players received lots of playing time.
Good players with bright futures. Jordan Mailata started 10 games at left tackle receiving 65 percent of the snaps and played very well.
Nate Herbig in his second season started 12 games at both guard spots and showed lots of promise against good competition.
Jack Driscoll, a late round pick from Auburn, ended up starting four games and playing in 11 games at a variety of places.
Matt Pryor, the enormous third-year player from TCU started his first 10 games of his young NFL career.
Brandon Brooks, started 53 straight games, and went to three straight Pro Bowls as the league's best right guard will return healthy.
Lane Johnson could join Brooks at right tackle where he is an injured ankle away from being the All-Pro right tackle.
Last year on the first day of training camp he opted for ankle surgery and it was a disaster.
When healthy Brooks/Johnson is as good as any right side in the NFL.
At center the Birds return Jason Kelce. Highly highly competitive at everything and as good on the perimeter, STILL, as any center in the NFL. Very crafty and can really help a young QB in Jalen Hurts, as much as any coach on the staff can.
At left guard is steady, super smart, and powerful Isaac Seumalo. I believe Seumalo has a Pro Bowl invitation coming his way at some point in his career.
At left tackle is going to be a real true camp battle between Mailata and former No. 21 pick in the NFL, Andre Dillard.
Dillard has started only four games in two years after missing the entire 2020 season with an injury.
Dillard has put on 15-20 pounds and we will find out if the added bulk transfers to more power, especially in the run game.
If Mailata is in good condition he will be tough to beat out.
Lurking for PT will be Herbig, Driscoll, and Pryor. All have experience and an upside.
With the second round pick in this draft the Eagles drafted my favorite player in the 2020 draft, Landon Dickerson from Alabama.
He was the single best offensive lineman I have studied since Quenton Nelson came out of Notre Dame four years ago.
He was a dominant player for the Tide at both center and guard. He was beset by injuries at both Florida State and at Alabama.
But at one point he did start 24 straight games from 2019- through the 8th game this season when he tore his ACL v Florida. I don't know exactly when he will be ready this season, but when he gets cleared it will be difficult to keep him on the sidelines.
Like the Cowboys who turned their 1-15 season around immediately in 1990 and into a Super Bowl victory in 1992, the seeds for their championship run started with depth and talent on the offensive line.
The Birds, if they stay reasonably healthy, could easily become a Top 5 OL in the NFL this season and if this happens they will become highly competitive.
With Hurts' threat as a runner and the talent of Miles Sanders, and a new staff that loves to run the ball this team could become immediately competitive...especially in their own division.
I spoke at length with former Eagles running back and coach, Duce Staley, last week and he raved about Miles Sanders.
If he can stay healthy Duce believes that he can be the best all around back in the division. And that includes Saquon and Zeke. His 5.0 average over his 22 starts the past two seasons says he might be right.
Perhaps the biggest key to the success of the line and a strong rushing attack was Nick Sirianni's ability to convince offensive line coach,
Jeff Stoutland, to stay on his staff. Stout's ability to develop players, units, and break in inexperienced players is second to none in the NFL. When things go awry during games, as they are known to do, no one can fix issues on the fly as well as STOUT.
If this team comes out of preseason with a healthy offensive line they will be able to run the ball and protect a quarterback who will be poised to make only his 5th NFL start.
I have been around most of the offensive line at Lane Johnson's BARN, His workout center in his backyard for most of the off season.
I have seen the work that Johnson and others have put forth. I have witnessed the camaraderie that they share. When a team has a dominant OL, hint hint..the Cleveland Browns, the team feeds off of that group.
I am not predicting three Super Bowls in four years like the Cowboys team of the early 90's did, but I also am not predicting the 4-11-1 debacle that 2020 was.
The foundation to future success lay in the 14 different offensive line combinations they deployed in 2020 and the experience that many players received.
I like many things about this 2021 Eagles team, but nothing excites me more than the promise of a dominant offensive line. *