When the Philadelphia Eagles lost Jason Peters to a horrific Achilles tendon tear shortly before the NFL draft, the team signed Peters’ replacement in Buffalo, Demetress Bell, to be the fill-in starter for 2012 while Peters recovers.
After the first preseason game, though, Andy Reid has announced Bell will be sitting on the bench and longtime backup King Dunlap will now be starting at left tackle (via the team's official website).
Dunlap is taking first-team repetitions during the practice today and is now in line to start the season opener at left tackle. Dunlap has started just seven games in his four-year NFL career—three at left tackle, three at right tackle and one at left guard, and he’s never performed well enough to make Eagles fans confident that he can be anything more than an emergency backup who takes up space on a 53-man roster.
Dunlap is 6’9”, and offensive line coach Howard Mudd openly prefers smaller, more agile offensive linemen, which is a big reason the team got rid of players like Nick Cole and Jamaal Jackson when Mudd joined the team in 2011.
Dunlap played fine last year in very limited snaps, but has been exposed big-time in some of his recent starts—he gave up three sacks against the San Francisco 49ers in 2010 and then struggled to protect Michael Vick in a start against the Dallas Cowboys late in the year.
In fact, the team was willing to let Dunlap walk in free agency, until it quickly re-signed him after Peters’ injury. Dunlap has had some good games, like the time he shut down DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, but he’s really not a guy you would want starting for your team regularly.
Then again, Bell hasn’t made the most of his opportunities. BR’s senior analyst for the Eagles, Bob Cunningham, highlighted the struggles Bell had in his first preseason game.
Of course, one poor game doesn’t mean Bell can’t be a starter—and maybe Mudd is just trying to motivate Bell by benching him. But Bell came into Philly with many people thinking he could be at least an adequate-to-solid starter if he stays healthy.
Maybe the Eagles will still go with Bell and he will be a fine starter for 16 games. Maybe they will go with a combination of Bell and Dunlap.
Either way, though, I think the fact that Peters is out is really going to cost the Eagles and the team might spend most of the season trying to fill the void left when he got hurt.