Howard Mudd is one of the greatest offensive line coaches of all time. He's innovative. He is a good teacher. He's had success at multiple stops. Mudd also has more than 30 years of coaching experience, not to mention the fact he was a pretty darn good player back in the 1960s. Andy Reid made a great move in hiring Mudd to coach the Eagles offensive line.
That said, Mudd is in for a major challenge. There was a lot of talk this week about how Mudd's lines in Indianapolis gave up fewer sacks than any other team during his tenure there (and it wasn't even close). Mudd and his blockers get a lot of credit for that, but you cannot ignore the fact that Peyton Manning was the quarterback.
Many people don't realize the importance the quarterback plays in sacks. There is a reason that guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Manning are so hard to sack. They make great pre-snap reads. They anticipate pressure. They get the ball out quickly. Back in 1995 Jon Gruden was hired as the Eagles offensive coordinator. One of the first things he did in meeting with Randall Cunningham was to put together a tape of all the sacks from 1994. Cunningham had attempted 490 passes, but been sacked 43 times. Gruden had come from Green Bay where Brett Favre had attempted 582 passes, but been sacked only 31 times. (I realize QB runs skew pass attempts. I'm just going with actual attempted passes as a point of comparison.)
Gruden knew that sacks killed the Eagles offense way too much with Cunningham as the quarterback. He was trying to get Cunningham to realize that there was value in dumping the ball off or just throwing it away. Cunningham, never one to handle coaching well, didn't buy in. He was sacked 13 times in 1995 (only 4 starts). He lost his job to Rodney Peete, who was sacked just 33 times the rest of the year. Peete wasn't a guy who would win you many games, but he wouldn't lose many either, and that was good enough for the 1995 Eagles. Sadly, Cunningham and Peete won the same number of playoff games in their time as Eagles starting quarterback: 1.
Mudd no longer has the luxury of Peyton Manning as his quarterback. Michael Vick is incredibly gifted and is a star player to be sure, but he did a poor job of making pre-snap reads this past season. He eluded many sacks with his dynamic scrambling ability, but had other times when he caused sacks by holding onto the ball too long. To my knowledge, Mudd has never had to build protection schemes for anyone close to Vick. Rick Mirer and Dave Krieg are his idea of mobile quarterbacks, if that gives you an idea of the difference we're talking about.
I am thrilled that the Eagles hired Mudd to coach the offensive line. I think he can be a help to the group. My point is to not expect him necessarily to mean that Vick will only be sacked 25 times in 2011. Mudd can certainly adjust what he does to fit the Eagles offense and Vick, but anytime you have a mobile quarterback and a vertical passing attack, there will be sacks. That's just a fact of life.
Mudd should make the line better. The left side of the line is set. Mudd will enjoy working with a talented player like Jason Peters. He will push Peters hard. It will be interesting to see how Peters responds to that. He's driven more than a couple of coaches crazy over the years. Todd Herremans should get along fine with Mudd. Jamaal Jackson was a guest on Eagles Live (on PE.com) the other day. He said he's healthy and expects to start in 2011. Jackson had already requested tapes of Colts games so he could study how their line did things with Mudd as coach. I thought that was a good, proactive thing for Jackson to do. That tells me he's really serious about keeping his job.
The right side of the line is a mystery to everyone involved. Winston Justice had a good year in 2009, but was much more up and down in 2010. He didn't play well at all in the playoff loss and was benched. A lot of people seem to be writing him off. I think it's too early to do that. Justice has the size, athletic ability, and talent to be a very good right tackle. He's still young. Justice will turn 27 in September. He wasn't so awful in 2010 that you feel he must be replaced. Justice's two worst games game against Green Bay and Clay Matthews, who beat plenty of blockers this year. If Mudd can connect with Justice, that is your best bet at right tackle. Justice knows the offense. He's a proven NFL player. He just needs something to get him back on track. Mudd might make a huge difference to him.
Right guard is wide open right now. If Jackson truly does get his center job back, that would make Mike McGlynn the leading candidate at right guard. And that could be a good thing. McGlynn didn't really have many physical problems in 2010. His struggles had more to do with learning on the job. He'd never played center much prior to 2010. Not only did he have to adjust to being a starter, but he had to learn a new position. McGlynn had practice time at center over the last few years and even some preseason games, but that is far different than actually playing the spot for a full season.
McGlynn is an overachiever/worker bee kind of player. He started for four years at Pitt. He has good size, but isn't huge. He's only a limited athlete. McGlynn is tough, plays hard, and is coachable. McGlynn isn't naturally gifted in any way. He had to work hard to make himself into an NFL starter. McGlynn is the type of player that thrived under Mudd with the Colts. They didn't give him a bunch of high picks to work with. They didn't go after established stars. They gave Mudd a regular supply of blue collar blockers and Mudd fashioned them into a good line, year in and year out.
One of the most interesting aspects of hiring Mudd will be to see how he affects personnel moves. Reid and Juan Castillo loved huge linemen. Mudd has preferred smaller players that are more agile and play with an edge. Justice and Max Jean-Gilles were drafted in 2006. I had both listed as overrated players that I didn't want the Eagles to draft. To me, both players were underachievers. I've never really cared for the way Reid and Castillo picked out linemen.
This year we'll get to see how much influence Mudd has. The Eagles M.O. for the past decade has been to draft tackles and move them to other positions. Mudd had an interesting theory with the Colts. He actually drafted guards and let them play guard. Revolutionary stuff, huh? Plenty of teams move players around (Mudd did as well), but the Eagles were almost adamant with their style of picking interior blockers.
Todd Herremans - OT
Mike McGlynn - RT
Max Jean-Gilles (played OT early on at Georgia)
Nick Cole - OT
Shawn Andrews - RT
Fenuki Tupou - LT
Jamaal Jackson - LT
Going into the draft used to be somewhat predictable with the Eagles when it came to offensive linemen. That won't be the case this year. They could be all over the map with the players they target. The thing I would look for most is guys that "can block". In the past the Eagles went after players with potential. I think Mudd will take guys with less upside, as long as they are consistently good.
The one player on the roster who may benefit the most is A.Q. Shipley. He fits the Mudd profile to a tee. It is hard not to compare him to Jeff Saturday, the long time center of the Colts. Saturday had basically given up on the NFL when he was invited to camp by the Colts. He went and turned out to be an ideal fit for Mudd and his system. Saturday has been a fixture in Indy for more than a decade. Shipley spent time on the practice squad in Pittsburgh and then the Eagles last year. Shipley isn't the biggest, strongest, or most athletic blocker in the world, but he does have some potential. Mudd will work with him and give Shipley every chance in the world. If McGlynn does move to right guard full time, that could open up a spot for Shipley on the roster. This will be a critical year for him.
I never bought into the notion that Castillo was the best offensive line coach in the league. I think Reid is showing his bias when he makes that comment. Castillo was good, though. Mudd is one of the few guys in the league that I think is a clear upgrade. I'm excited to see what he can do. The Eagles have some talented pieces in place. If Mudd can get Justice to play up to his potential, right tackle is solved and then some. It would become a strength. McGlynn could be an good fit at right guard.
The biggest problem the Eagles line had in 2010 was a lack of cohesion. Getting Jackson back to run the show at center could be a major help. Sliding McGlynn to guard would mean that four of five starting players are back, with the fifth being Jackson, a guy with plenty of starting experience. That would help develop chemistry faster. I'm not against going after a veteran guard, if the circumstances are right. No more projects (Stacy Andrews) or descending veterans (Reggie Wells), please. Get an upgrade, or stick with McGlynn and give the young guy a chance to show what he can do. The Eagles already upgraded the line by hiring Mudd. Give him some young talent to work with and let's see what happens.