With All-Pro Right Guard Shawn Andrews still on the shelf with an ankle injury (official reports: High Ankle Sprain) the Eagles have been auditioning just about every back-up lineman they have in his slot. Last year's "6th man" Scott Young played game 1 (granted all of a couple series), last year's 4th round behemoth Max Jean-Gilles played game 2 (and played pretty well), and now, last year's undrafted free agent find Nick Cole has been given the nod to start game 3 with the first unit offense.
Some folks don't know what to make of this. The basic reason: lingering speculation about the status of Shawn Andrews. The team says its a high ankle sprain on his surgically repaired right ankle (an injury he sustained in his rookie year - 2004). Some suspect its worse than that and that Andrews could miss significant time this year (if not all of 2007). I haven't seen the Eagles conduct themselves as if they expect the "Big Kid" to miss the 2007 season, but there are two ways to analyze coach Reid's decision to start Nick Cole at RG this week against the Steelers:
Glass half-empty: It is an indication Big Red realizes the Big Kid is not going to be available to start the season. High ankle sprains (no, not buying into the "he's done!" crapola) are tough injuries, especially for a guy on a repaired ankle who weighs well in excess of 300 lbs...So, with the realization that Andrews could very well miss some meaningful time (September perhaps?) - Andy Reid wants to find the best replacement. Period. End of story. The coaching staff knows what Scott Young can do, they've had a good long look at Max Jean-Gilles, and now they decided its time to give Cole gets his shot.
Glass half-full: Andy Reid expects Andrews will return on time and is not planning on the Big Kid missing half the season or whatever. So, instead of focusing on O-line unit cohesion with a guy who's not going to be in there, AR and Juan Castillo see game 3 as a way to find out what Nick Cole has got. Can he be a starting caliber player? Its a question that needs to be answered. I mean, given injuries, back-up linemen are just like everyone else - one play away from being the starter. This is a chance for the Eagles to find out if a guy they think of as perhaps a deep reserve guy has the chalks to be a starting O-lineman in the NFL, or maybe just a top back-up.
We Eagles fans like to think that we've got one of the deepest, most talented Offensive lines in team history, and certainly one the deepest in the NFL this season. But how did we get that impression? Mostly because we drafted two big linemen in 2006 (and we're lauded for getting them as "steals" when we chose them in the draft) and because two undrafted rookie free agents (Nick Cole and Pat McCoy) made the team. That's it. These guys didn't PLAY last year. Cole got on the field as short-yardage "fullback" (giving new meaning to the term actually) blocker last year, but aside from the "Frig" impersonation, the coaches really didn't see him play along the line.
We've basically anointed the Eagles O-Line as incredibly deep and talented because the coaches selected 5 guys to be the back-ups to a really talented group of STARTERS....Maybe its high time we saw them play before making such a confident declaration.