Marcus Hayes: My Fair Linemen: I Think They've Got It!

Posted: September 18, 2012

"Our prediction or prophecy may in itself be a factor in determining the behavior of other people."

- "Pygmalion in the Classroom," by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson

HOWARD MUDD heard the apprehension in the voice of Marty Mornhinweg, and Mudd really didn't like it.

When brilliant center Jason Kelce sprained his right knee in the third quarter, Mudd, the Eagles' line coach, replaced Kelce with a project player, Dallas Reynolds.

Reynolds had never before played on the line in an NFL game. Mornhinweg wasn't sure Reynolds was ready for the Eagles' complex protection schemes, especially against the unbalanced, terrific 3-4 front the Ravens put on the field Sunday. So, Mornhinweg kept making sure that Reynolds wouldn't botch protection calls and executions.

"Howard, how's this one?" Mudd heard over his headset.

"No problem," Mudd growled back.

Later: "This one?"

"Call it," Mudd said.

Mudd is a man of arts and letters, a disciple of philosophy . . . and the leader of 300-pound behemoths whose aim it is to maim the other team's giants.

To that end, Mudd believes in the Pygmalion Effect.

He expects excellence from every one of his offensive linemen. After all, if he does not expect it, than how can they be expected to attain it?

So, when Mudd replaced injured star Kelce with practice-squad veteran Reynolds, Mudd expected Reynolds to at least play as well as Kelce would have. He expected Reynolds to handle Pro Bowl tackle Haloti Ngata; to manage the protection calls and blocking schemes; to get the ball to quarterback Michael Vick without incident.

Mudd got all of that, and more.

Reynolds didn't botch a single snap.

Reynolds and the line blew just two of 15 pass-protection calls.

Reynolds repeatedly stymied Ngata, who at 340 outweighs him by at least 20 pounds.

Reynolds replaced Kelce with 11 minutes, 19 seconds to play in the third quarter. The Eagles trailed the Ravens and their mythically potent defense by 10 points. When Kelce's right knee buckled, they lost their best lineman; certainly, their most valuable.

Two plays after Kelce left, perhaps for the season, the Eagles scored a touchdown.

They then drove 60 yards on 11 plays to tie it.

They went 80 yards on 10 plays in the fourth quarter to win it.

What could have been a disaster turned into "a real good story," said head coach Andy Reid.

The Eagles have their Eliza Doolittle.

Or, perhaps more accurately, their Larry Moore.

Like Reynolds, Moore was an undrafted interior lineman out of Brigham Young University. Against all odds, Moore played in eight NFL seasons.

Know who else was a lineman at BYU?

Andy Reid.

So, yes, Big Red has a soft spot for 28-year-old first-year player Dallas Reynolds.

"He got an opportunity to show. And he showed. I'm proud of him for that," Reid said. "We knew he had talent. Athletic ability. It was a matter of him just getting stronger."

The Eagles waited, and they waited. Reynolds spent the past three seasons on their practice squad.

"Dallas has been coming on," Mornhinweg said. "He's gotten better every day that he's been here.

Mornhinweg paused, and continued, wryly:

"Of course, he's been here for some time now."

His practice-squad eligibility exhausted, if Reynolds wanted to remain in the NFL he needed to make a 53-man roster. He made the Eagles', without much doubt.

"He had something when he got here [undrafted in 2009]. And that's why he has remained here," Mornhinweg said. "For quite some time, we believed that he could help this team at some point. And he certainly did today."

Whether it was standing up Ma'ake Kemoeatu on healthy third-quarter runs by LeSean McCoy and Vick, or stoning Ngata with help from left guard Evan Mathis, Reynolds did not shrink.

Or think.

As Kelce rolled on the ground, Vick raced to the sideline, buttonholed Reynolds and began taking practice snaps.

What a wonderful moment for reflection, no? About all of the hard work in the weight room, about 3 years of job insecurity, living in hotels, always a phone call away from unemployment.

"I wasn't really thinking anything," Reynolds said. "There wasn't time to think."

For 3 years, Reynolds has been doing little besides thinking, and preparing.

"Dallas is a guy who has been working his ass off for a long time to afford himself this opportunity. Then he comes out there, against one of the best defenses in the NFL, and he performs," Mathis said. "Before the game, he's probably not even expecting to go on the field."

Neither was Demetress Bell, really. Signed as a free agent to replace injured left tackle Jason Peters, Bell, who had played with the Bills, struggled to learn the Eagles' language and techniques. He lost the starting job to career backup King Dunlap in training camp.

Dunlap left Sunday's game early in the third quarter with a hamstring strain . . . just in time for Bell to show off his progress.

Bell entered just three plays after Reynolds replaced Kelce. He might have won his job back. At least now he's serviceable.

"Everybody gets to that point at a different pace," Mornhinweg said. "Demetress is relentless. He's gotten there with the terminology, and understanding exactly what he needed to do within our terminology. He played outstanding today."

Bell is supposed to play well.

Reynolds isn't supposed to play at all.

Thanks to Mudd's coaching, thanks to Mudd's expectations, both fulfilled Mudd's prophecy.

"They came in with confidence. They came in with an attitude," Mathis said.

They were Pygmalion's ivory statue come to life on Cyprus; Henry Higgins' Cockney lass transformed on Broadway.

They played to Mudd's expectation.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com.

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