Aug 212010

Eagles rookie OL Austin Howard

August 21 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Paul Domowitch

“Very few NFL teams buy their offensive tackles at Kmart anymore. Peruse the league’s depth charts and you’ll find that most of the starters at that position are high-round blue bloods.

Of the 32 Week 1 starting tackles in the NFC last season, 25 were selected in the first four rounds of the draft, including 14 first-rounders. Only four of those 32 starters entered the league as undrafted free agents.

Which brings us to Austin Howard. The 6-7, 333-pound rookie from Northern Iowa, who signed with the Eagles after getting snubbed in the April draft, has been one of the revelations of the summer. Final cuts still are 2 weeks away, but you are on very safe ground scrawling in this kid’s name as one of the eight or nine offensive-line survivors who make the 53-man roster.

Howard has played nothing like a wide-eyed undrafted rookie out of a Division I-AA school. He has held his own in training camp against the likes of Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole, and has played very well in both of the Eagles’ first two preseason games, including last night’s 22-9 loss to the Bengals.

His lone gaffe last night came late in the third quarter, when he gave up a sack to Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap on a third-and-3 at the Cincinnati 23 that forced the Eagles to settle for yet another David Akers field goal. Otherwise, he did a good job handling the second-round rookie.

“He’s looked very good,” one Eagles scout said. “Early in camp, Trent beat him a couple of times. Since then, he’s done a good job against Trent. He’s done a good job against everybody he’s faced.”

The Eagles need Howard to be good. While most of the preseason concerns about the offensive line have been focused inside – where center Jamaal Jackson is trying to come back from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, and right guard Stacy Andrews is trying to prove he isn’t a high-priced bust, and left guard Todd Herremans spent the first couple of weeks of camp on the physically unable to perform list after tweaking his surgically repaired left foot in the spring – they are not without questions on the outside.

Jason Peters is a talented enigma wrapped in a questionable work ethic. He can play as well as any left tackle in the league 1 minute and roll over and play dead the next (see: playoff game against Cowboys).

Right tackle Winston Justice did a decent job last season, but has he plateaued, or will he continue to improve? Backup tackle King Dunlap probably won’t survive final cuts.

“I’m just taking it day by day,” Howard said. “Working hard and trying to do the little things the coaches ask you to do and just trying to work hard. You can always be a lot better. Rookies tend to get better every day. Hopefully, that’ll be the case with me.”

Watching him play this summer, it’s hard to figure out how this kid didn’t get drafted in April. Maybe it’s because he’s played tackle for only 2 years, switching from tight end after his sophomo

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