Rich Hofmann: Eagles must address offensive line problems

Posted: October 19, 2012

NEXT TASK?

The offensive line.

At the end of most first halves, it's good. In the third quarter, it's sometimes very good. There obviously are some solid adjustments being made at halftime, and there are stretches of games where you do not worry about physical deficiencies being a problem. This line, this Eagles offensive line, can be decent.

But the starts of games, in particular, have been alarming. Even acknowledging quarterback Michael Vick's propensity to hang on to the ball too long, he has too little time and he is taking too punishing a beating. The Eagles' offense is spending too many minutes in games working to come from behind. It is an exhausting process.

There are other problems, for sure - turnovers, for one, but also a lack of touchdown conversions in the red zone. Those are more on the quarterback than anyone - but changing there would be just too drastic. Given everything, the line sticks out as a problem, and we are going to find out pretty soon just how big a problem Andy Reid thinks it is.

Here is the issue for all of us, and we need to be honest: Offensive line is the hardest position for casual fans to evaluate. We cannot even pretend to know what the line calls are, and how efficiently they are being made. When you see left tackle Demetress Bell whiff on a guy - fine, we got it. But when you watch a guard join the center to double on a guy, leaving a free path for someone else, it is sometimes hard to know with any certainty exactly who screwed up what. The only certainty is that it was screwed up.

So, take all of that and you are left with three potential approaches if you are Andy Reid.

1) Cross your fingers: I just don't see this one, but the argument would go like this. That the line is much better in the second halves of games, and that cohesion is a big part of the process here, and that making several significant changes involving players of similar skill levels would do nothing but set back the whole cohesion business. I hear that, but I don't think it works.

2) Minor surgery: This would involve one or maybe two changes. That is, swapping out Demetress Bell at left tackle and re-replacing him with King Dunlap, and/or replacing center Dallas Reynolds with backup Steve Vallos. On this, again, I'm not going to pretend to know how well Reynolds is or isn't doing with the line calls, or how well Vallos might or might not play as his replacement. But I will go out on a limb and say that Bell has had some howlingly bad stretches in games, and that Dunlap could be worth another look here. The problem there is that Dunlap can't seem to stay healthy, which messes with the whole continuity thing.

3) Major surgery: This is the toughest, obviously, but if I had to guess, this is where I think they will head. I'm rooting for it just because it will be the most revealing of what the club really thinks about its personnel.

This could take a couple of forms. One would be to bring in somebody from the outside, either via trade or by picking up a guy on the street; former Bears first-rounder Chris Williams was in for a visit Wednesday. To me, this seems the least likely as an immediate fix. The odds of bringing in a new guy, teaching him all of your stuff, and also acclimating him in the mystical world of Howard Mudd - and getting it done in a week - just doesn't seem feasible. But if it were to happen, logic suggests that the new guy would have some kind of familiarity with Mudd already.

The other major surgery would involve moving right tackle Todd Herremans. He has had some struggling parts of games, like the rest of them, but he remains the line's most consistent performer - and, also, its most versatile. He has been an excellent guard in this league and he has been an excellent tackle. There are options here.

If Danny Watkins is perceived to be the biggest issue, Herremans could slide over to right guard. The new right tackle could be Dennis Kelly, who had a solid summer, or Dunlap.

If Bell is perceived to be the biggest issue, and Dunlap's durability is a significant concern, then Herremans could move to left tackle - he has done it before, in an emergency. Again, Kelly could be the new right tackle, or one of the others.

Whatever Reid decides, we'll know by next week. We already know that he cannot afford to get this one wrong.


Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynew.com. Follow him on Twitter @theidlerich. Read his blog at philly.com/TheIdleRich, or for recent columns go to philly.com/RichHofmann.

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