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Eagles have clear target: Linemen

Since 1999, they have used almost half their picks on the guys who man the trenches.

The Eagles like to draft linemen. This, of course, is not breaking news.

It's a philosophy that the team adopted the instant it hired Andy Reid to be its head coach.

Since that day in 1999, the Eagles have used 41 percent of their picks (27 of 66) on either an offensive or defensive lineman. No other team has taken more than that during Reid's tenure.

Fifteen of the Eagles' picks have been offensive linemen, which is also a league high.

The Eagles have used five of their eight first-round picks during the Reid era on linemen, including three on defensive tackles (Brodrick Bunkley, Mike Patterson and Corey Simon), and one on a defensive end (Jerome McDougle).

"They're tough to find," Eagles general manager Tom Heckert said when asked about the team's penchant for picking linemen. "Your odds are against you if you think you're going to come up with Trent Coles every year. That's great if you can do it, but you can't count on that."

The big question: Is the Eagles' strategy of taking more linemen than any other team in the NFL a sound one?

It's open for debate.

Of the 15 offensive linemen the Eagles have selected, four have opened at least one season as starters. That might not sound like a lot, but it's a tribute, in part, to what William Thomas and Jon Runyan have done at the two offensive tackle positions. Thomas has started all but 10 games at left tackle since 1999, and Runyan has started every game at right tackle since 2000.

The offensive tackles the Eagles drafted during that time have either not played or moved to guard. In fact, the team's two current offensive guards - Shawn Andrews and Todd Herremans - were drafted as tackles.

Andrews, the Eagles' first-round pick in 2004, has emerged as a Pro Bowl player, and Herremans had a solid first season as a starter at left guard in 2006.

John Welbourn, a fourth-round pick in 1999, is the only other offensive lineman drafted during the Reid era who emerged as a consistent starter. Many of the other drafted offensive linemen - John Romero, Scott Peters, Jeremy Bridges, Dominic Furio, Adrien Clarke, Trey Darilek and Calvin Armstrong - have come and gone without having any impact.

That said, the Eagles will go into the 2007 season with what is considered one of the better offensive lines in the league, and they love their depth with backups Winston Justice, Max Jean-Gilles, Scott Young, Nick Cole and Pat McCoy.

Because of that group, it's unlikely the Eagles will spend a first-day pick on an offensive lineman this year, and any offensive lineman who comes into training camp will have a difficult time making the 53-man roster.

The Eagles' 12 picks along the defensive line are a more interesting study. One has become a star and another a solid starting player for a perennial playoff team. Neither plays for the Eagles anymore. Derrick Burgess, a third-round pick in 2001, had 27 sacks the last two seasons for Oakland, and Raheem Brock, released before ever playing a down with the Eagles after being selected in the seventh round of the 2002 draft, is a starting defensive tackle with Indianapolis.

Simon, the sixth overall pick in 2000, had a solid rookie season and made a Pro Bowl with the Eagles, but his star faded fast. McDougle, with three career sacks and zero career starts, hasn't come close to being worthy of a sixth-round pick, let alone a first-round selection.

Patterson and Bunkley are expected to be the starters at defensive tackle in 2007, but both still have much to prove.

Cole, a fifth-round pick in 2005, has been the best value selection the Eagles have made on the defensive line, with 13 sacks and 21 career starts.

The Eagles, even with all the high picks they've invested in defensive linemen, may still find themselves going after another one tomorrow. If a defensive end like Florida's Jarvis Moss falls to the 26th pick, they may take him.

At least in theory, what the Eagles do in the draft is comparable to what the New England Patriots have done over the same time frame, but somewhat different than how the defending Super Bowl champion Colts have gone about their business. The key, of course, to any successful draft is selecting good players, regardless of position.

The Patriots, using fewer picks to do it, have been better at selecting defensive linemen. New England has used 22 of its 70 picks (31.4 percent) on linemen, including 11 first-day selections.

Four of New England's five offensive linemen came from the draft, including three who were first-day selections.

New England's defensive line consists of three former first-round picks (Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork), so the Patriots obviously feel strongly about building their interior lines through the draft. Seymour is the kind of dominating player the Eagles have not been able to draft and keep.

The Colts, meanwhile, have taken 23 total linemen in the last eight drafts, including 10 offensive linemen. Three of the Colts' starting offensive linemen were drafted players, but two others were undrafted free agents, which is how the Eagles have filled the center position since the 2001 season. The Colts have used only one first-round pick on a lineman in the last eight years, but it was a good one. They took defensive end Dwight Freeney with the 11th pick in the 2002 draft and he has become a star.