Jeff McLane, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2013, 7:49 PM
MOBILE, Ala. – Right up there along with who the Eagles intend to have at quarterback next season is the question of their health and strength on the offensive line.
Three of their starters on the line, including All Pro left tackle Jason Peters, will be trying to return from season-ending injuries. And two of the injured -- Peters and right tackle Todd Herremans -- will be 31 this year.
The situation screams for the Eagles to select a lineman early in the draft, possibly with their fourth overall pick.
For the first time in 14 years, the team entered Senior Bowl week with a high pick, but none of the prospects projected to go in the top five, or even the top ten, were scheduled to be here.
But after three days of practices, one tackle may have made a move into the top ten, and possibly as low as where the Eagles pick.
Eric Fisher of Central Michigan was labeled a mid-to-late first round pick by many analysts heading into the Senior Bowl. Now there are some that have him rated ahead of Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, ranked by some as the top overall prospect in the draft.
“I think he’s made more movement that anybody in the draft,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said. “When you look at Fisher, he’s a guy a lot of people thought was kind of a mid-to-late first rounder coming out of the MAC. He came out here and he stoned everybody. Now there are conversations about who’s the first tackle in the draft.”
Joeckel, a junior, is still rated by many draft services as the top tackle. CBSSports.com has him slated to go No. 1 overall to the Chiefs in their mock draft. But Fisher has been so impressive that two NFL scouts said that they now have him slotted ahead of the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Joeckel.
“I’ve seen him play. He’s a very good tackle,” Fisher said of Joeckel. “I’m looking forward to battling him in these next couple months, preparing for this.”
Fisher said he met with the Eagles this week, although that hardly signifies any great interest. But coach Chip Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman will likely consider addressing the offensive line early in the draft, even if Peters, Herremans and center Jason Kelce return to their old form.
If they do, and left guard Evan Mathis maintains last season’s solid play, the Eagles should be fine. But that was the expectation last offseason, before the injuries, and the Eagles were ill-equipped to handle the losses.
Add another year to the legs -- Mathis will be 32 in November – and the line is all of sudden an aging group. Fisher or Joeckel, even if they didn’t start right away, would give the unit some high-end youth.
Both have the skill set to start right away. The Eagles, if they took either, could move Herremans back to his natural left guard, slide Mathis to right guard and start a rookie at right tackle.
Fisher started at left tackle for four seasons. He said he played a few games at right tackle and right guard during his sophomore season.
“From a skill-set prospective, he fits the left side more than he does the right,” Mayock said. “He’s a natural pass protector. Not as good a drive blocker, but he can drive block. But two years ago, Jason Peters was the best left tackle in football. So you got to make some decisions on where Jason Peters is going to be. The Eagles are sitting at four, and I’m a big believer that at four you get an All Pro.”
With each year there are fewer concerns about prospects that don’t play in the big conferences. But Fisher, who played in the MAC, said he had something to prove this week going up against defensive ends like Alex Okafor of Texas.
The 49ers’ Joe Staley faced the same uncertainty when he came out of Central Michigan six years ago. The two-time Pro Bowl tackle had a strong Senior Bowl week and was eventually selected with the 28th overall pick in 2007.
“I remember walking in when I was being recruited at Central Michigan and saw his pictures, a first rounder, on the wall,” Fisher said. “I was like, ‘That’s who I want to be. I want to follow in his footsteps.’”
The other issue with Fisher is his size. His measurements at Monday’s weigh-in were 6-7, 304 pounds. He’s always struggled to keep weight. But scouts see his frame, and with the NFL’s strength programs, believe he won’t have any problem adding pounds.
“He’s got the frame that he could put on 20 pounds naturally without losing any of his quickness or footwork,” Mayock said. “I think what you’re looking for, first and foremost in a left tackle, is the ability to protect your passer. He looks a little bit to me on tape like Joe Staley. But the more I see of him the more I like him better than Staley when he came out.”
Jeff McLane INQUIRER STAFF WRITER