Man in the Middle

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Man in the Middle

The Philadelphia Eagles have a very talented offense in place and even with the status of veteran fixtures Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook in question, youth has been served on the offensive side of the ball in the past few years. Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, Todd Herremans, Jason Peters, LeSean McCoy, Shawn Andrews, Stacy Andrews and Leonard Weaver add up to a spry 25.2 year old average for this unit and Cornelius Ingram, Kevin Kolb and a number of draft picks would drop that average even further.

Set to turn 30 in May, Jamaal Jackson is hardly a wily old veteran. In fact, he would only be entering his fifth year as a starter. If he was healthy, of course. Unfortunately, there is a very slim chance that Jackson will be coming back to the line in 2010. On December 27th, 2009 Jamaal Jackson tore a knee ligament facing the Denver Broncos in the Eagles final victory of their season. A knee injury that late in the season often signals a year long hiatus from the game. Just ask Stacy Andrews.

Is it a coincidence that the Eagles failed to win a game after losing Jackson? I don’t think so. Although Nick Cole provided adequate exchange and blocking for McNabb in both Dallas games (for the most part), it was evident that the quarterback simply did not have the same confidence in the middle of his line. All credit to Dallas, who outplayed the Eagles in almost every facet of those games, but these were not the 11-4 Eagles we’d watched for most of 2009. It’s not even about Jackson so much as Donovan McNabb’s faith in the middle of his line. McNabb was never able to settle into the pocket and seemed to be dropping his eyes at those times when he should have been finding open receivers down field.

Maybe the Eagles give Jackson the time to recover and bide their time with Nick Cole, who has performed admirably in his duties at left guard and has the ability to play center, despite his limited height (6′0″). It might only be an issue of allowing our starting quarterback (whoever that may be) to invest some trust in Cole. Or they could find a more permanent solution. I feel like there were times that Jackson underperformed after his contract extension in 2006 and the Eagles were intent on replacing him. With his front-loaded, incentive-based $20 million contract, it wouldn’t be difficult to cut Jackson loose. Adding more fuel to the fire, there were rumors circling in last year’s off-season that the Eagles would be bringing in former Ravens’ Center Jason Brown, but he signed with the St. Louis Rams early in free agency.

One of the names being floated in conversations regarding Jackson’s replacement has been veteran center Kevin Mawae. Mawae has been a fixture on several of the best run-blocking offenses in the past decade. He helped Curtis Martin of the New York Jets become one of the most prolific runningbacks of all time and has also done his part in getting Chris Johnson’s young career off to an unbelievable start. On top of that, at 39 he could give the Eagles one more year of quality play before packing up what could potentially be a Hall of Fame career. That would be just enough time to let Jamaal Jackson heal up and return for 2011. One of their less exciting alternatives would be allowing current undrafted prospects A.Q.Shipley and Dallas Reynolds to battle it out in training camp. Of course, there is always the draft, where Florida Center Maurkice Pouncey is probably the only standout at what can sometimes be an undervalued position. The Eagles would like to take a Center in the fifth or sixth round, and they might value intelligence and recognition more than size and reach. Knowing how Andy Reid feels about the offensive line, I think it’s fair to expect competition at the Center position, if not a big name signing or early draft pick. Otherwise, the Center position could remain one of those all too familiar unanswered questions that ends up tearing the Eagles 2010 season apart, week after week.

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