PHILADELPHIA – Doug Pederson has arrived at a crossroads, perhaps the most pivotal one he has had to face in his five years as the Eagles’ head coach.
He must choose who is left tackle will be this season. It’s only the second-most position on any football team, behind the quarterback.
Howie Roseman did Pederson a favor in that regard, trading Sam Bradford a week before the 2016 regular season began. Wentz was elevated to the starting job.
Now the player Roseman gave Pederson to be the left tackle is gone for the season. Andre Dillard has a torn biceps and is out until 2021.
What will Pederson do?
In the short term, he is going to give his young players a look-see.
If he doesn’t like what he sees, he will likely turn to Jason Peters. He must avoid that. He must find something he likes among a group that includes Matt Pryor, Jordan Mailata, or Jack Driscoll.
Peters should stay at right guard, and not because he looks greedy in requesting more money should the team decide to move him to left tackle.
The fact is, the Eagles were ready to move on from Peters until Brandon Brooks tore his Achilles in early June. Only then, did they call to ask him to return and fill in for Brooks.
Even with Dillard out, they should keep Peters where he is, and begin the development of someone else.
That someone else should be Driscoll.
He is the longshot, to be sure.
Here is the thing with Pryor, though. Should something happen to Peters, whether long-term, short-term or in-game, he is the best candidate to step in immediately at that spot. He can also be effective as a swing tackle.
In other words, he would become what his former teammate at TCU was for the last four years, and that is Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who left for the Lions in free agency this past March.
Pryor even gave a good reason why he should be a super-sub when he talked after practice and said: “I was training with Lane (Johnson), so me and him would go back and forth … I feel comfortable at all four. I don’t touch center.
"As far as the guard and tackle spots, I’m pretty comfortable on both sides of the ball. Last year I got reps on both sides at guard and tackle. I spent all preseason on the left side. In college, I played the right side, so I’m real comfortable.”
It looks like Pryor will be given the first chance to win the job, however, since he was the left tackle during Saturday’s practice, which was forced indoors due to rain.
Then there’s Mailata, who was a big-time project drafted two years ago in the seventh-round despite never having played organized football in his life. His first two seasons ended with him on injured reserve and unable to practice with his teammates.
The former Australian rugby standout threw his extra-large hat into the ring after Saturday’s practice.
“My biggest strength is my size,” said Mailata. “There aren’t many tackles my size. I like how I have quick feet, I have fast hands, I feel like the one thing I need to work on is knowing the angles and knowing when to start kicking on a pass set. I feel very confident in my run game.”
It’s hard not to root for Mailata, but is he ready?
Driscoll brings plenty of experience, having started 45 of his final 46 college games, and he played two of those years in the best conference in football, the SEC.
He brings decent size at 6-5, 3015, and a lot of athleticism.
He’s smart, so the playbook should have been devoured by now.
Last year he was nominated for the William V. Campbell Award, which recognizes the top football scholar-athlete in the nation for his combined academic success, football performance, and exemplary leadership. Also, he was a member of the SEC academic honor roll.
Furthermore, Brandon Graham mentioned Driscoll two weeks ago, when the assumption was Driscoll wouldn’t come close to sniffing the second team on the season-opening depth chart.
Driscoll stood out to Graham even though he couldn’t remember his name.
“You got (number) 63, Jack, I forgot his last name,” said Graham. “I like him a lot. He’s a younger guy. I love his attitude so far, just on how he tries to finish blocks and you really have to work the edge on him because he’s a big body.”
Clearly, Driscoll, who is 6-5, 315 pounds, has opened some eyes in camp.
He is a 23-year-old rookie, drafted in the fourth round, about to begin a season where he had no snaps in rookie camp, OTAs or minicamp because of the global pandemic.
That would make Pederson’s decision a huge leap of faith, but, like he said Saturday, “At some point, we have to trust our players.”
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