If Jason Peters hadn't gotten hurt during the offseason, King Dunlap probably wouldn't be in the Philadelphia Eagles' training camp.
Dunlap entered the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. He re-signed with the Eagles on March 30, the same day the team had found out that Peters, a five-time Pro Bowl left tackle, had ruptured his right Achilles' tendon during a workout and would miss at least the first half of the regular season.
Dunlap, who had spent most of the previous four seasons as a backup, agreed to a one-year deal on the condition that he be given the opportunity to challenge for Peters' job.
He is about to get that chance. Coach Andy Reid said Saturday that Dunlap would replace Demetress Bell as the starting left tackle for the time being.
"I mentioned before that there's competition at positions," Reid said in quotes provided by the team. "Left tackle is one of those positions, so King is scheduled to work with the ones (starters) and Demetress will back up and work with the twos.
"King was obviously told that, when he was re-signed here, that he would have an opportunity to compete for the starting position, as was Bell. King's been with us a while and he deserves that opportunity. Demetress has done a good job. He's worked hard, so he's doing fine. But I just want to make sure everybody has their shot there."
Until Saturday, it was assumed that Bell would be the starter, considering the Eagles signed him to a five-year contract. Bell, son of NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone, started 30 games for Buffalo from 2009-11. Coincidentally, he replaced Peters, whom the Eagles acquired in a trade prior to the 2009 season.
Bell was Philadelphia's first-team left tackle throughout the minicamps, the first two weeks of training camp and Thursday's 24-23 victory over Pittsburgh in the Eagles' preseason opener.
"For the six (plays) that we were in, I did all right," Bell told the team's website Saturday. "Nothing fancy. Nothing spectacular on anything like that.
"(The demotion) is not surprising. It is what it is. If that's what the coaches say, then that's what it is. It's not my job to sit there and coach. It's my job to just play."
Dunlap hasn't played much since joining the Eagles as a seventh-round draft pick in 2009. The 6-foot-9, 330-pounder gained attention last season when he replaced injured Evan Mathis at left guard against Arizona, thus tying Jonathan Ogden (Baltimore, 1996) and Ben Jefferson (Cleveland, 1990) as the tallest players to ever play guard in the NFL. His other six career starts were at left (three) and right (three) tackle.
But he entered free agency hoping to get a shot to be a full-time player somewhere.
"I've always had the mentality to fight for something that you want," Dunlap told the team's website Saturday. "When I first got here, I wasn't brought in here to be a starter. I've always had to fight to try and beat somebody out. My goal is still going in and working hard every day to become one of the guys who goes out there first on Sunday."
Nothing is decided, yet.
Offensive-line coach Howard Mudd is known for tinkering with his offensive line in hopes of finding the right combination. During training camp last season, he constantly shuffled players in and out of the lineup. Rookie Jason Kelce eventually replaced veteran center Jamaal Jackson. Kyle DeVan started the season at right guard because rookie Danny Watkins wasn't ready. Ryan Harris was supposed to be the starting right tackle but hurt his back and never played for the Eagles. Dunlap got the first crack at replacing him, but Mudd opted to move Todd Herremans from left guard to right tackle and insert Mathis at left guard.
More changes could be made this season before the Eagles open the season at Cleveland on Sept. 9.
"I guess they're trying to get a fit for who would be the best fit for the O-line," Dunlap told the team's website. "I know that me and Demetress come out here and we both work hard every day. Like I said, the whole goal is to come out here and challenge each other every day in practice and try to get better. The coaches are the ones who decide who starts, not us. The only thing we can control is just working hard and getting better."
Extra points: Jackson, who was not re-signed after last season, had a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, but the Cowboys did not sign him. "I want to thank The Cowboys for the opportunity today," Jackson said via Twitter. "Unfortunately things didn't go as planned. Still hopeful of being signed b4 opener."
The Eagles will hold a walkthrough at 8:15 a.m. today at Lehigh University and a full practice at 2:45 p.m. Michael Vick, Brent Celek and the rest of the quarterbacks, tight ends and specialists will sign autographs at approximately 5 p.m. The Eagles end their stay at Lehigh on Tuesday.
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