Mudd's line makes difference for Vick

Eagles quarterbacks Michael Vick (left) and Mike Kafka rely on the blocking by their offensive line.
Eagles quarterbacks Michael Vick (left) and Mike Kafka rely on the blocking by their offensive line. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 25, 2012

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Howard Mudd asks Michael Vick the same question almost every practice.

"Who's unblocked?" Vick said.

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson handle most of the coaching of the Eagles quarterback, but Mudd has played an important role in Vick's development.

As the offensive line coach, Mudd is responsible for getting his linemen to protect Vick. And last season, Mudd's first with the Eagles, his linemen mostly got the job done - especially late in the season. But Vick didn't seem to always trust his blockers - two of whom were rookies.

Center Jason Kelce and eventually Danny Watkins at right guard were tossed into the fire in their first seasons, and they came out relatively unscathed. But Mudd's new and unorthodox blocking methods didn't just throw the rookies and most of the veterans for a loop.

Vick had to adjust to the aggressive style of blocking as well. He also had to adjust to calling out most of the pre-snap protection assignments. He struggled. The Eagles admit now that they threw too many changes at Vick early last season.

But when he returned after missing three games because of broken ribs, Vick was a different quarterback. He wasn't anywhere near as dominating as he had been for an unprecedented six-game stretch in 2010, but that was the point. He wasn't trying to do everything himself.

In the final four games of the season - all victories - Vick ran only nine times, or 2.3 times a game. In his first nine games of 2011, he ran a little more than seven times a game.

"That was phenomenal," Vick said Monday after the Eagles' first day of training camp. "That was because I was comfortable with the protection. I finally had the protection scheme down, and I locked it up. It was a different feel those last four games after I came back from the injury."

The Eagles and Vick believe that he can carry over that feel into this season. The quarterback has had to listen all offseason about how he needs to rein in the instinct to run if he is to avoid injury.

But what hasn't often been written or said is that most of Vick's injuries last season happened when he was in the pocket and he didn't properly read a pass rush or held onto the ball too long.

That's where Mudd's question - "Who's unblocked?" - comes in. There are times when the offensive line - or any additional blockers - won't be able to block every pass rusher. So someone will go unblocked, and it's Vick's job to identify that defender.

"We're going to block such and such, and there's somebody that's not blocked," Mudd said. "What are you going to do about that?"

Often the Eagles want Vick to throw to the "hot receiver" - the man left uncovered when a linebacker or defensive back blitzes. Sometimes Vick has to go to his next read. And sometimes he may have to take matters into his own hands.

"Obviously, we're not going to take that aggressiveness away from him," Pederson said. "That's been his style of play. We're going to continue to talk about it. . . . It doesn't become a big point of emphasis every time."

The Eagles don't want to overburden Vick by focusing too much on one issue. He's been asked the same question about staying healthy repeatedly this offseason, and he cracked a little during a May radio interview. He has said that he gets it, but that there's nothing he can do about it until he actually plays.

Some have doubts that a 32-year-old quarterback - at times stubbornly prideful - can change his style of play.

"Mike is still in a progression of playing the quarterback position," Mornhinweg said. "I think he's a dynamite quarterback right now with the opportunity to get even better in the next couple of years."

Mornhinweg said that dynamic quarterbacks such as Vick - he used Steve Young as an example - tend to protect themselves better as they age. He said Vick started to do that in the final four games of last season.

Mudd, a former assistant with Indianapolis, said Vick's trust in his line also made a difference.

"You look at a team that doesn't have many sacks . . . and it's a well-coordinated thing," Mudd said. "For many years we had, in Indianapolis, this incredible record for sacks. Well, it wasn't all the offensive line, it wasn't all Peyton."

Mudd was speaking, of course, of Peyton Manning, who essentially ran the Colts offense as a statue-like quarterback. That's not Vick's strength, and the Eagles are giving him a little help this season with Kelce taking on more of the pre-snap calls.

"Michael's getting 'it' at the end of the year in the sense of delivering the ball, knowing who's not blocked," Mudd said. "Because that happens and you think, 'Gee, well that's pretty elementary.' But there's a lot of quarterbacks that don't know when they get hit and they just start running."


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

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