Eagles' new offensive line coach Mudd will keep Vick protected

New Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd said he plans to keep things simple while focusing on reducing the number of sacks his unit gives up.
New Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd said he plans to keep things simple while focusing on reducing the number of sacks his unit gives up.
Posted: February 11, 2011

AFTER SPENDING 12 seasons in charge of the security detail that protected the Colts' Peyton Manning, Howard Mudd was coaxed out of retirement by Andy Reid a couple of weeks ago to help keep Michael Vick in one piece.

Aside from the fact that they both can hum the ball, Manning and Vick are about as different as two quarterbacks can be.

One is the prototypical pocket passer. The other is, well, uh, not the prototypical pocket passer.

In the 12 years Mudd spent as the Colts' offensive line coach, his unit gave up a league-best 227 sacks in 6,746 pass attempts, which comes out to one sack every 29.7 pass attempts. Six times in those 12 years, the Colts finished either first or tied for first in sacks allowed. Two other times they finished second. Gave up more than 23 sacks just once in those 12 years (30 in 2001).

"The first thing our offensive staff did every week was figure out the protection schemes in the passing game," said former Colts coach Jim Mora, who hired Mudd in 1998. "They were really good at coming up with ways to protect Peyton.

"They prepared the team - the offensive line, the backs, the receivers, Peyton - so he wouldn't get sacked. Because he was the key guy. They didn't want him on his back. Howard was a big part of that with the protection schemes each week.

"Now, Peyton added to that efficiency because he was smart. He understood where a free guy might be coming. He understood where his 'hot' receiver was going to be. He got rid of the ball quickly. Having him back there doing all that stuff helped. But Howard was terrific at figuring out ways to keep him safe."

Vick made tremendous strides as a quarterback last season, as his 100.2 passer rating and his plus-15 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio indicate. And while he has speed that Manning can only dream about, he doesn't have Peyton's ability to read a blitz or adjust protections, which was a major problem in the second half of last season when opposing defenses blitzed the hell out of him.

Eagles quarterbacks - Vick and Kevin Kolb - were sacked 50 times last season, the second most in the league. Vick was decked 34 times in 372 attempts, or once every 10.9 throws.

"I don't like the number," Mudd said.

If anybody can do something about dramatically improving that number, it's Mudd. He is regarded as one of the very best offensive line coaches in the game, and not just for the job he did protecting Manning. He has been an NFL offensive line coach for 36 seasons. In 16 of those 36 years, his units have allowed 25 or fewer sacks. They've given up 40 or more just nine times.

Only three times has one of his lines given up as many or more sacks than the 2010 Eagles: the 1975 Chargers, who gave up 50 sacks and finished 2-12; the '80 Seahawks, who gave up 51 and finished 4-12; and the '84 Browns, who gave up 55 and finished 5-11.

"He's got a little bit of Rain Man in him," said the Eagles' new defensive line coach, Jim Washburn, who is best buds with Mudd. "He's the kind of guy who figures out what he's got and makes it work."

Mudd doesn't know what he's got yet because he really hasn't spent much, if any, time watching tape. When he does, what he'll see is a solid left side with tackle Jason Peters and guard Todd Herremans, and a lot of question marks at the other three positions.

"I've basically only seen these guys from afar," he said. "We've done a lot of talking with [offensive coordinator] Marty Mornhinweg. We've had conversations about some systems that were used here, some systems that were used in Indianapolis, and that sort of thing."

The Colts run a no-huddle offense with Manning. He has the kind of presnap freedom that no other quarterback in the league has. Under Reid, the Eagles have used the no-huddle sparingly.

"It's just a different way," Mudd said. "We decided there that we were going to go to the line of scrimmage and play without a huddle. That presents unique challenges. You have to learn to communicate and all those kinds of things. Sometimes there can be a negative to that as well.

"My guess, and we've been talking anyway, is that we get to audible. The only difference is we're not going to go to the line and do a hurry-up offense all the time. Which is fine. That's OK. It's just a different rhythm."

Mudd, a three-time Pro Bowl guard, is demanding. But players like playing for him.

"He's tough on them, he's always on their butt," Mora said. "He's very thorough with his teaching, both in the classroom and on the field. He goes into every game thoroughly prepared."

Mudd is big on repetition.

"We kind of do the same thing over and over and over," he said. "We don't try to change a whole lot. Make it simple. Do a few things. Just do them extraordinarily well. That's kind of going to be our motto. That way, you kind of know where to fix the problems when they happen."

Washburn has said that Mudd thought out of the box before out of the box became a term. He's never been afraid to do unconventional things.

"Most offensive linemen have been taught to stay in front of a guy," Mudd said. "Offensive linemen are never allowed to turn their back on anyone. Well, if you look at secondary guys, [if] a corner gets beat to the post, they'll turn their backs, spin and go and meet the guy at the junction point.

"Well, why can't offensive linemen do that? Basketball players do it all the time when they're beaten to the hoop. So, I started doing that. We practice it. We just do it."

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