It was a rare candid moment for Andy Reid - as rare as the Eagles' drafting a center.

Asked last month whether his team would miss Jamaal Jackson if the injured center wasn't back by the September opener, the Eagles coach responded, "It looked that way in the last Dallas game."

Actually, it looked that way in the last two Dallas games - a 24-0 loss in the regular-season finale and a 34-14 embarrassment in the playoffs - when guard Nick Cole was pressed into action at the pivot after Jackson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

As concerned as Reid may be about his center situation, especially if Jackson's recovery takes longer than hoped, the Eagles have yet to address the situation thus far this off-season, except for adding former Penn State center A.Q. Shipley from Pittsburgh's practice squad.

But this week's draft offers Reid the opportunity to fill the need for not only now but for perhaps the next decade. Florida's Maurkice Pouncey is a first-round-caliber center who many say can start from Day 1 and whom some have slotted to the Eagles with the 24th overall pick.

There are obstacles to this happening.

For one, Denver (pick No. 11) and Pittsburgh (No. 18) might grab Pouncey. And, the Eagles don't normally like to draft centers and may not necessarily believe they have a need for one.

"We have Nick," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said, "and I anticipate that Jamaal will be ready to go at some point during the season."

But the return of Jackson, 29, cannot be relied on, especially if the Eagles were to use guard Stacy Andrews' return from a November ACL tear the year before as a template. Andrews was back by the opener, but the team said it rushed his return and didn't play him much.

If it is indeed Cole who starts the season at center, the Eagles could do worse. As horrifying as some of his snaps were - two bounced off his rear and onto the carpet - Cole was more than competent blocking Jay Ratliff. The Pro Bowl nose tackle did not record a tackle in both games against Dallas.

The Eagles would rather not have to use Cole at center. He's been their contingency plan at both guard spots for the last few years, and right guard is contingent on Andrews' rebounding. That's why Roseman has been quick to include other candidates into the center argument.

Mike McGlynn was drafted in the fourth round two years ago, but has not been used. Dallas Reynolds, an undrafted free agent last season, is in the mix, but Shipley is a much more interesting prospect. An all-American in college, Shipley was drafted in the seventh round a year ago, but spent last season on the Steelers' practice squad.

He's "a guy we liked in last year's draft," Roseman said. "He's been a productive player at a big-time school, and he's doing a good job here."

If the Eagles really like what they see out of Shipley - or McGlynn and Reynolds, for that matter - it would be difficult to envision them expending a top pick on a center. Of course, not many teams "waste" high picks on centers.

Reid has drafted only three college centers, never taking one earlier than the fourth round. The two centers who anchored the line for the bulk of his tenure in Philly were undrafted rookie free agents from Division I-AA schools - Jackson (Delaware State) and Hank Fraley (Robert Morris).

But with the proliferation of 3-4 defenses - two of which are in the NFC East (Dallas and Washington) - the Eagles may place more emphasis on the position.

"It's a factor having a center that's got a nose tackle over him, and usually those nose tackles are pretty big and pretty powerful," Roseman said.

The 6-foot-4, 304-pound Pouncey may not have the size yet of most NFL centers, but he's technically sound and faced a 3-4 scheme enough times in the Southeastern Conference.

"I call him a 'plug-and-play player,' " said Mike Mayock of the NFL Network. "He's ready to go right now. He's big enough to anchor against some of those 3-4 nose tackles."

If Pouncey and the Eagles don't match up, Boston College's Matt Tennant, North Carolina State's Ted Larsen, and Baylor's J.D. Walton could be options later in the draft.

The Eagles may be inclined to take a guard and move him to center, but the best of a very small lot (Mike Iupati of Idaho) has little experience in the middle and projects more as tackle.

Reid has had success converting college tackles such as Fraley, Shawn Andrews, and Todd Herremans into interior linemen, so it's conceivable that the Eagles go that route.

"I think the offensive tackle group [in the draft] has been pretty strong the past few years," Roseman said. "Our history is that some of those offensive tackles can move inside, so that gives us a little bit bigger pool of players."

The top prospects - Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, Oklahoma's Trent Williams, and Iowa's Bryan Bulaga - are expected to be taken within the first 10 picks. Rutgers' Anthony Davis, Indiana's Rodger Saffold, and West Virginia's Selvish Capers are a few of the tackles the Eagles have worked out. Davis has been projected to go anywhere from the early first round to the early second.

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane
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