Eagles' Howard working to stay fit, working for a roster spot

The Eagles' Austin Howard (right) has shed 15 pounds, going for that mean-and-lean look that fits line coach Howard Mudd's philosophy. He hopes to remain on the roster after the lockout.
The Eagles' Austin Howard (right) has shed 15 pounds, going for that mean-and-lean look that fits line coach Howard Mudd's philosophy. He hopes to remain on the roster after the lockout. (AL BELLO / Getty Images)
Posted: July 09, 2011

If Howard Mudd was the offensive line coach a year ago, there's a good chance the Eagles wouldn't have signed Austin Howard.

An undrafted rookie free agent, Howard typified the mammoth linemen former line coach Juan Castillo liked. But with Mudd, who likes his linemen to be athletic and mobile, now in charge, Howard's size may no longer be his greatest attribute.

The second-year tackle got the memo.

The 6-foot-7 Howard weighed 345 pounds by the end of last season. During a recent workout with other Eagles players, he said he was down to 330.

"The key is that you want to come into camp - or whenever we start - at the lowest weight possible so you can have that extra step or a quicker move," Howard said. "So that's something I wanted to do, regardless. But, again, going back on [Mudd's] resume and going back on the guys that he's coached, he has smaller linemen. So it wouldn't be a bad idea."

To put it bluntly, Howard will be fighting for a roster spot once the lockout is lifted. Last year, he was the only offensive lineman the Eagles added before training camp. (They traded for Reggie Wells just before the start of the season.) This offseason, they drafted three linemen, including top pick Danny Watkins, and still have free agency to get more.

Watkins will play guard to start, and the other two - guard Julian Vandervelde and center Jason Kelce - project as interior linemen. So if the roster stays as is Howard could still be one of four tackles who were on the team a year ago.

But that's a big if. And it wasn't as if Howard instilled much confidence during the season finale against the Cowboys when the Eagles played their reserves in a meaningless game. To be fair, it was Howard's first significant action at left tackle, and he was lined up opposite DeMarcus Ware.

The Pro Bowl linebacker abused the rookie and padded his stats with three sacks.

"He's pretty good, but I wouldn't take that experience back for anything," Howard said. "I learned a lot from it. I watch film on it almost every day, and every day I wish I could have that game back."

Unbeknown to those outside the organization, Howard played with a herniated disk. He said it was an injury he dealt with and rehabbed through all last season. Before the lockout, the Eagles set him up with a recovery program at the Sporting Club at the Bellevue.

Howard said he's spent most of the offseason there rehabbing, occasionally with Eagles tackle Winston Justice, who is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. He got to see up close the man he's chasing.

Justice is penciled in as the starting right tackle, opposite Jason Peters on the left. But Eagles coach Andy Reid has said King Dunlap will compete for the job. And there was speculation that Todd Herremans could move from left guard to right tackle to make way for Watkins.

"We have some great guys out there so it's going to be a competition every day, one thing you can't shy away from," Howard said. "No one really has a set job until you get to the season."

A product of Northern Iowa, Howard slipped through the cracks during last year's draft. He ended up being the only undrafted rookie to make the Eagles roster. He spent most of the season inactive, but the Eagles liked his progress and makeup.

And then they changed offensive line coaches. Howard was one of several linemen who met with Mudd and did film work before the lockout.

"He gave me his expectations of me, and I gave him my expectations of myself," Howard said. "He kind of just laid out the law."

Eagles tackles won't typically use the vertical set, and they have to be in shape by camp. Howard recently joined the crew of Eagles that have been running in Evesham Township, Burlington County. He has dropped 15 pounds, and the back has "been feeling great."

"It's kind of killing two birds with one stone," he said.

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

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