Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Blind Side

In The Blind Side, Michael Lewis sorts through the numbers to inform us that left tackle is probably the second most important position in the NFL offense- at least as measured by pay check, and to the extent pay measures simple capacity and not scarcity.

This probably explains why the Eagles- the NFL’s most arrogant franchise- is in flux at that position. By the way, I tend to believe all the left tackle hype- at least anecdotally. To wit, a few years back I once drove by and stopped into the Rams’ camp in Macomb, Illinois. Tony Banks was executing the two minute drill in a sort of seven-on-seven exercise- and he did not miss a throw, went up and down the field. But the minute they introduced the pass rush, even wearing the red jersey, Tony began to miss- and miss a lot. Pressure and danger people- organziations pay and players play up for safety.

Consequently, I am going to put my forecasting hat on- and try to figure out just what in heck the Eagles are doing vis-à-vis the left tackle position:

Shawn Andrews: Obviously, the Eagles secret fantasy when they selected this guy sixteenth overall in 2004 was to anoint him the left tackle for the next decade. They wavered in this assignment for reasons good (William Thomas’ prolonged solid play, the fact Andrews developed into the best offensive guard I’ve ever seen in Philadelphia) and bad (many hurts, mental illness).

Look, Andrews is going to get a look- he is a brilliant physical talent. But in the end, the move is probably too risky organizationally. Moving Shawn to tackle definitely weakens the interior of the line dramatically. Who takes his place? Do you want to move the best guard here in Philadelphia in a generation to generate perhaps an average tackle? One move could downgrade two positions. So unless he just looks awesome and healthy, I imagine he’s going to play next to his brother.

Todd Herremans: Obviously, the Eagles secret fantasy when they selected this guy in the fourth round was to anoint him the right tackle for the next decade. Like Andrews, he’s remained marooned at guard for a similar mixture of good, bad and the prolonged play of the incumbent. Two years ago, he had a bad season- which made them fearful to promote him. Last year, he was probably their best lineman- which would put him in line for “promotion” to tackle. In fact, had the opening the Eagles have been on the right side, I think Herremans would be penciled in.

Herremans probably has more utility as a tackle- he isn’t a true road grader type that lends itself to guard. He is very athletic- and has played serviceable tackle in emergencies. Frankly, that is what he is- a servicable guard or tackle who had an up, healthy, in his prime year last year. But, in the end, you can get by with "serviceable" a lot easier at guard than left tackle. Even though he might be better as a tacle, I'm not sure the Eagles want to be yoked to a guy for half-a-decade who aspires to "mediocre". Thus, he’ll stay in the interior- and be the chief back-up at the tackle position.

Thus, I think the Eagles are going to draft a tackle and play him right away. Which makes a lot of their off-season posturing make sense: the unreal accumulation of twelve(!) draft picks in a seven round draft, the retention of Lito Sheppard, the stashing of cap mad money versus giving it to the incumbent tackles.

Obviously, the success of such a strategy is ultimately part and parcel of picking the "right" guy. But it isn't without a certain inteligence. Fact: it is a whole lot easier to trade up now. Bad teams that populate the first half dozen picks have made a determination it is a waste of cap space to give big guaranteed numbers to guys who, for the most part, need some seasoning. Further, most share a view you get better faster giving up your pick for multiple later selections. And while the draft is a cap shoot, left tackle seems to be- within the context of a crapshoot- one of the easier positions to grade out and top guys can play right away.

So that is my prediction- the Eagles have identified one of these guys as ready to play- and will trade up to get him. Should this fail, I also would absolutely not be shocked if they select Andre Smith either- as they have a semi-credible back-up plan a left tackle should he blow up, and the guy is both an awesome player and awesomely crazy. Between Shawn Andrews and Andre Smith, one of them might be un-crazy enough to make sixteen starts.

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