Starting at Center for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006 Will Be..

At center in Philadelphia, it’sâÂ?¦

With the signing of Jamaal Jackson last week, the Philadelphia Eagles created an interesting tug-of-war for the starting center spot on their roster.

Center/OG Jackson was taken up by the Eagles after going undrafted out of Delaware State in 2003. Jackson made a name for himself last season when, in yet another of a M*A*S*H unit’s worth of injuries, then-starting center Hank Fraley went down. Fraley got surgery for a torn rotator cuff, Jackson got the job by the end of the season. And now, reportedly, the spot’s up for grabs.

When joining the Eagles in 2000, Fraley was just about as unheralded as Jackson had been when he broke into the NFL. Fraley graduated Robert Morris College and was also undrafted, but was picked up by the Pittsburgh Steelers who waived him before the season. Fraley would seem to be QB Donovan McNabb’s preference to play the post, as this center snapped to McNabb for nearly every regular- and post-season game from 2001 to the injury in 2005.

At the basest level, the struggle seems to come down to brains versus brawn. Fraley is touted by Eagles PR as “a self-made player” whose plusses are on the technique and knowledge side of the game. He’s a guy to whom adjectives like “scrappy” and “blue-collar” are applied by journalists. Reportedly, Fraley spends extra time with McNabb going over game clips one-on-one on Wednesday nights.

Jackson is simply huge. Those impressed by Fraley’s 6’2″, 300-pound frame have got to be positively knocked out by Jackson at 6’4″ and 330 (perhaps more). The protection afforded the passing and running game last season needs, to say the least, improvement. Jackson probably impressed enough during his tenure last year to have Coach Andy Reid and co. consider that bigger just might be better in 2006.

Thanks to personal incentives in Jackson’s contract, the situation becomes even more heated. Jackson was given a five-year deal in which $2-3 million could be added with proper performance and playing time. Fraley, meanwhile, is in the final year of his contract and he, along with most Philly followers, must be thinking Jackson is the Eagles’ future. Fraley’s best hope may be a decision to give Jackson more time at guard.

Experience versus fresh blood, guile versus bulk, Jackson versus Fraley: The face-off elicits a clichÃ?© or two. “Competition is healthy,” springs to mind, as does the possibility that whatever doesn’t kill these guys will only serve to make the Eagles stronger.

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