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Real Live football and the battle for Center


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So the 2 weeks following the draft have been pretty boring. Not much Eagles talk to be had… Most experts and fans seem to really like the draft, the schedule has already been set, almost every big free agent is signed. Now, all that’s left is… to actually play real live football!

Mini camp starts for the Eagles Friday and it opens up one of the most competitive off seasons in recent memory. For the first time in a few years there’s a significant amount of real battles for starting spots. In the next few days we’ll go over the major battles.

Center. In my opinion, this may be the most interesting of all. Ever since taking over the starting spot in 2001, undrafted free agent Hank Fraley has been a mainstay at center. He’s snapped the ball to McNabb in nearly every major game and every major play during the Eagles run of playoff appearances. In 04 however, some of Hank’s weaknesses started to get exposed. In the Eagles first loss of the season at Pittsburgh, McNabb was brutalized by the Steelers’ rush up the middle. They play a 3-4 defense where a nose tackle lines up right in front of Fraley. He struggled mightily with that and the push up the middle that killed the birds in that game. Fast forward to the superbowl and yet another 3-4 defense in the Pats. The same thing happened and the push up the middle disrupted the timing of the offense and put McNabb under major pressure. These games put a spotlight on Hank and more teams started to bring pressure up the middle right at him, with success…

Last year, Hank went down with an injury midway through the season and Jamaal Jackson took over as a starter. Originally he was a guard and expectedly had some trouble snapping and communicating with McNabb early on. However, as the season wore people really started to take note of his play. First off, he’s bigger and stronger(6’4” 330) than Hank(6‘2” 300). He used his size and strength to better handle rushers up the middle and really shined late in the season as the Eagles began to run more after McNabb was gone. He showed some real ability to push defenders around and displayed some of the nastiness that Hank never has been known for.

Now, the way I’ve described it you’d think it was a no brainer that Jackson should win the job. However, it’s really not that simple. First and foremost, Hank has started for this team in every big game they’ve played in the last 5 years and that can’t be discounted. Jackson has started 8 games in his career and they were almost all exclusively in the garbage time second half of last season. Fraley has experience and has been good at calling the blocking schemes for the O-Line and he has good chemistry with #5. Since he was a starter and went down with an injury, this should be his job to lose.

In the end, I loved the raw ability Jackson showed last year and I’d love to see him anchoring the center of that line. I think he has the size, strength, and demeanor to develop into a very nice piece of what should be a dominating line. However, if Fraley takes this challenge from Jackson and uses it to motivate himself to be a better player, I can’t say that I wouldn't be happy for honeybuns (as John Madden called him).


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