New Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd has his own approach to teaching blocking

New Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd previously coached for the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks.
New Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd previously coached for the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks. (MICHAEL CONROY / Associated Press)
Posted: May 03, 2011

Howard Mudd was living, quite literally, in Leisure World when Andy Reid phoned him one January day with the hopes of luring him out of retirement.

Reid's peculiar idea of naming offensive line coach Juan Castillo the Eagles' next defensive coordinator could only happen, in his words, if Mudd had agreed to take Castillo's spot only a year after calling it quits with the Colts.

There was a brief feeling-out period.

Mudd: "You know that I'm not going to do things like Juan did them."

Reid: "Well, I'm not hiring Juan. I'm hiring Howard Mudd."

Both men, Mudd recently recalled, eventually cut to the chase. There are many methods in teaching blocking, and some of Mudd's are as unorthodox as they come.

"He was kind of telling me that he was taking a leap, as well," Mudd said.

Mudd may be considered the NFL's best offensive line coach in the last 20 years, but his challenge with the Eagles is very different than when he joined a rebuilding Indianapolis Colts team in 1998. Aside from Jason Peters, every Eagles offensive lineman who is expected to return next season has been coached only by Castillo.

It's up to the 69-year-old Mudd to get his new charges to change.

"They have to relearn," he said. "And you have to retool their instincts."

To get a handle on how a different coaching philosophy can affect a player, see Stacy Andrews and Peters. Andrews, who was signed as a free agent in 2009, couldn't adjust to Castillo's ways and was discarded before the 2010 season. It took Peters more than a year to look comfortable at left tackle.

"I'm excited about it," Eagles guard Todd Herremans said. "I switched coaches halfway through my college career, and I thought the world was over. I thought about transferring, [but] it ended up being the best thing that happened to me."

Mudd's task is further complicated by the lockout. Normally at this point, the Eagles would have had a month of workouts under their belts, with minicamp just days away from starting. If the owners win an appeal for a stay this week, though, the work stoppage could drag on for months.

Mudd at least had the opportunity to meet with several Eagles linemen before the lockout. The Eagles drafted three interior linemen over the weekend, including top pick Danny Watkins, who is expected to start at guard. Mudd, as it stands now, won't be able to work with the rookies right away.

He didn't leave Leisure World - the Mesa, Ariz., retirement community he briefly called home - to sit on his hands.

Birth of a philosophy

After eight seasons, three Pro Bowls, and several knee surgeries, Mudd retired from playing football in 1971. He spent most of his career with San Francisco 49ers, where he learned to play the guard position from Bill "Tiger" Johnson.

When he got into coaching after his retirement, most of his methods sprung from Johnson. However, when he was hired by the Seattle Seahawks in 1978, he began to formulate his philosophy.

His lightbulb-over-the-head moment came while watching guard Dennis Johnson play for the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics.

"He was a great defensive player, and, in those days, they let them hand-check at the top of the key, and he's hopping," Mudd said. "I kept watching that stuff, and I said: 'All that is pass protection.' "

Castillo, like other offensive line coaches, limited hopping to certain situations. For some linemen it comes natural. For those who like to plant and push, it does not.

"With Juan, we were taught to hop to stop a bull rush," Herremans said. "And with Howard, he doesn't want that to happen. He wants us hopping before they even start to bull rush, so they don't feel like there's any kind of give."

The same thinking applies to Mudd's distaste for the vertical step, a maneuver often employed by linemen in pass protection in which they step back and brace themselves. Mudd seems to want his blockers to initiate the contact.

"Why can't they be athletic and do instinctive things?" Mudd said. "When you think of offensive linemen and pass protection, it's not a passive thing. It's aggressive."

In February, before the lockout, Mudd met with Herremans, Winston Justice, and Jamaal Jackson. He gave each an instructional DVD and held a few film sessions with the players that gave them a glimpse of things to come.

"I was getting yelled at for stuff that Juan would say, 'Good job,' " Justice said. "We would be watching film and he would say, 'What was this? It's bull.' He hates the vertical set. So when I would have a perfect vertical set he was like, 'That's horrible.' "

Turning his back

Upon his retirement from the Colts, center Jeff Saturday and quarterback Peyton Manning organized a party at which Mudd was roasted by his former linemen. His long-windedness was a prime target.

"The funny thing about his stories is they'll start as a story, and it will turn into how he invented something," said Herremans, who went on to imitate Mudd: " 'And then ever since, everybody started doing it. That's when we invented the vertical set.' "

One of Mudd's favorite tales relates to another of his nontraditional teachings. Offensive linemen are taught to never turn their backs to the defense. But Mudd did that once when the Los Angeles Rams' Hall of Fame defensive tackle Merlin Olsen got around him, and the guard circled back and whacked him.

"And I'm laying on the ground, and he ran up to me and said: 'Nice block,' " Mudd said. "OK. Now that's one of the things I do."

Eagles linemen have done that, but it wasn't taught.

"Juan wasn't a fan of it because he thought it was a shortcut," Herremans said. "But Howard actually played offensive line, Juan never really did. [Juan] just became a really good coach at it. So he doesn't quite understand everything that needs to happen on the field."

Mudd's success speaks for itself. During his 12 seasons coaching with the Colts, quarterbacks were sacked just 18.9 times a season. While the offenses and situations were different, the Eagles, during that same span, averaged 40.5 sacks allowed under Castillo.

"He's a proven commodity," Herremans said. "And I think that helps, as well, when he's coming to talk to other players that are like, 'I don't know about that.' "


Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.

Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Jeff_McLane

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