A MONTH from now, we ought to have a pretty good read on whether Jason Peters will play this season for the Eagles. In the meantime, the Eagles' offensive line will have to come together well enough to make that matter.
The o-line is a huge focus this week, with the Eagles preparing to return from their bye against the equally rested, 6-0 Atlanta Falcons, whose defense shifts and stunts and tries to confuse blockers.
Asked Wednesday whether he would describe the feeling in the locker room as one of tension or of urgency, right guard Danny Watkins said: "I think it's a little bit of both. We've got to start producing. We've got to start doing better. We've got to start winning. I think it's a lingering shadow on everyone . . . [winning Sunday is] crucial for us."
The Eagles said Wednesday that Peters must be placed on a practice-eligible list by Nov. 6, as he recovers from two surgeries to his right Achilles' tendon. Then he would have 3 weeks to practice before the deadline approaches for Peters to be added to the 53-man roster. That is Nov. 27, the day after a Monday night game against Carolina.
"There's a chance," Eagles coach Andy Reid said, when asked whether he thinks his All-Pro left tackle will play this season. "You saw [Baltimore's Terrell Suggs] go through his thing," returning to the lineup last week after May Achilles' surgery. "The difference is, Jason's had two of these. We're not going to put him at risk . . . We're going to make sure the doctors are on board, Jason's on board, then we go from there."
Reid affirmed what Peters told the Daily News a few weeks ago - that Peters "is making progress, moving around, running, doing some agility things."
Peters later declined to comment in the locker room. The Eagles have shuffled back and forth between replacements Demetress Bell and King Dunlap this season. In the wake of the offensive line's late meltdown in the Oct. 14 loss to the Lions, Dunlap has regained the starting job he lost after suffering a hamstring injury Sept. 23. Reid indicated Wednesday that Dunlap was returning to the lineup because he was fully healthy, but Dunlap seemed pretty functional the last 2 weeks before the bye.
"I don't think we protected as well as we should have up front" in the Detroit game, Bell said. "I can't say" exactly what went wrong.
"I think I got better over time," said Bell, who played pretty well against the Giants, less well on the road against the Steelers, and way less well against the Lions. "I just know King got healthy, so he's back in the starting lineup."
Asked whether he felt misled about his role here, after signing as a free agent from the Bills last spring, Bell said, "I can't say I feel misled, no."
Dunlap said he figured all along he would return to the lineup when he was 100 percent healthy. He said the bye week "couldn't have come at a better time for me."
Dunlap made his first career start against the Falcons 2 years ago, a 31-17 Eagles victory in which the King acquitted himself well against Pro Bowl defensive end John Abraham.
"I feel like I've improved," Dunlap said. "We have different technique now [under offensive-line coach Howard Mudd]. We still had Juan [Castillo] coaching back then. I'm still confident."
Dunlap said he goes to Peters for advice regularly, but other than seeing him walk around, he has no insight into how the recovery is going.
Reid said his offensive linemen "are proud guys" who spent the bye week reflecting on the Detroit debacle, in which the Eagles led by 10 points with 5 minutes remaining in regulation. "They've heard me say, they've heard their coaches say, these are competitive guys, and they want to do well, their coaches want to do well. It's important that we do it," Reid said. "There's no talking that's going to help you do this; that's not what it is. You're graded on what happens on Sunday. That's the bottom line. One o'clock Sunday, you go out and you do your thing."
Watkins said that reports from Monday of him saying he would no longer talk to reporters were erroneous; he said he'd only meant to convey that he didn't want to say anything that day.
Watkins was asked how he thought he's been playing, and what happened in the Detroit game.
"Just overall, just the focus and the technique, I got away from it," he said. "Things had actually been going pretty well to that point. I feel I've done a pretty good job getting honed in before each game [before that]. It just kind of got away from me in that game."
Watkins, the Eagles' 2011 first-round draft choice, said he didn't consider the possibility that he might be replaced as a starter coming out of the bye. Asked whether he tended to take criticism of the o-line personally, he said: "Absolutely. How can you not take it personally? You're so close with the guys, you want to see 'em do well, myself included . . . It's like somebody having something negative to say about your best friend."
Watkins said he needs more time to mesh with Dallas Reynolds, who took over at center when Jason Kelce went down in the second game, against Baltimore.
"Me and Todd [Herremans, the right tackle] have got really good chemistry. It's just one of those things that takes time. Dallas is doing a really good job," Watkins said. "We just have to learn his calls, his mentality, where's he taking us? . . . It's just going to take a little time."
Reynolds also has struggled. Left guard Evan Mathis has been the emergency center for a few games lately, in which the Eagles declined to activate backup center Steve Vallos, foreshadowing Vallos' release Tuesday in favor of Matt Tennant, who'd just been cut by the Patriots. With Tennant new to the scheme, it seems likely Mathis will continue in that role this week. It isn't beyond the realm of possibility that Mathis could be moved to center, if Reynolds can't pull the line together.
"I can play any spot on the line," Mathis said. "I feel comfortable playing any spot on the line. If they need me to play center, I'll play center. I came into college, [Alabama] signed me as a center."
Mathis said a coaching change after his redshirt year at Alabama resulted in a move to tackle, but he has been an emergency center on all four NFL teams he has played with, and has gotten preseason game reps there.
Could he play center as well as he plays guard?
"Eventually," Mathis said. "I would just need to get comfortable there, work on some things. The things I do at left guard, I've been able to go out on tape, see me do one way or another, and then improve on that. It'd be good at first. It wouldn't be great for a while."