Heading into the 2011 season, the Philadelphia Eagles had legitimate reasons to worry about four of their five positions on the offensive line.
Left guard Evan Mathis was a journeyman veteran who was not brought into camp to even compete for a starting job. Center Jason Kelce and right guard Danny Watkins were rookies, and right tackle Todd Herremans was still learning a position that he hadn’t played in seven years.
Only left tackle Jason Peters, a reigning four-time Pro Bowl selection, was completely stable on the line.
Yet against all odds, it was Mathis who turned in the most impressive season by an Eagles’ offensive lineman, according to Pro Football Focus. In fact, Mathis rated as the best offensive lineman in the entire league, registering a positive rating in all 15 games he played, and earning a five-year, $25 million contract extension following the season.
Heading into 2012, the Eagles are expected to be much better on the offensive line.
Mathis and Herremans return, and Kelce and Watkins should be a year better and more experienced. But the big blow came in late March when Peters was likely lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, easily one of the most severe injuries a professional athlete can suffer.
To replace Peters, the Eagles signed Demetress Bell, formerly of the Buffalo Bills.
Bell was arguably the top talent on the free agent market and rated as a slightly above average starting offensive tackle during his four seasons in Buffalo. He did struggle with injuries though, and missed nine games in 2011.
With Bell already named the starter for 2012, is it possible that the 28-year old becomes the next Evan Mathis?
Bell will have a full offseason working with legendary offensive line coach Howard Mudd, unlike Mathis, who had just a few weeks with Mathis.
He’s always been a decent tackle but injuries have been his main concern. If he can stay healthy for the entire 2012 season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him rate as one of the better offensive linemen in the NFL.
I think it’s impossible to project that any player could suddenly become as dominant as Evan Mathis was in 2011. But if Demetress Bell turned in a very good season for the Eagles in 2012, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.