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Howard Mudd rejuvenated as he watches Eagles' offensive line

THIS WEEK'S 3-day full-squad Eagles wrapup of spring work is mandatory. So mandatory, even Howard Mudd showed up. Eagles coach Andy Reid joked that he had sent his offensive-line coach away to "practice retirement" during the previous 3 weeks of organized team activities, and the rookie camp that came before. "He wasn't very good at it last time — if I was able to talk him out of it, he wasn't very good at it," Reid said.

THIS WEEK'S 3-day full-squad Eagles wrapup of spring work is mandatory. So mandatory, even Howard Mudd showed up.

Eagles coach Andy Reid joked that he had sent his offensive-line coach away to "practice retirement" during the previous 3 weeks of organized team activities, and the rookie camp that came before. "He wasn't very good at it last time — if I was able to talk him out of it, he wasn't very good at it," Reid said.

Really, though, last year, when Reid persuaded Mudd to return to the NFL a year after he retired from the Colts, Mudd attached some conditions. In January, when Mudd decided he could endure another year, he attached a few more.

"He's [70] years old, he came off a major hip surgery during the season, battled through that," Reid said after Tuesday's afternoon workout. "He's got all kinds of energy. Give him a little bit of time to get himself together and get back out here, and he's gung-ho. Actually, after about the third day that he went home, he was ready to come back."

Mudd said he spent time this spring in Arizona and in Seattle, where he once coached and still has a home. He made a few trips to NovaCare, just not during the on-field workouts, and spent a lot of time conferring via phone and email with his assistant, Eugene Chung, who ran the line in Mudd's absence.

"Coaches coach with their brains. My brain still works," Mudd said. Then he thought about that a second. "Well, my wife says she's concerned about it, but no, I'm good. I really am.

"You don't have the same energy when you're older. You just don't. I think it's important [to be able to get away during noncritical times]. I gotta be honest, I feel very rejuvenated. I feel vital. I was sitting with Eugene this morning watching some of the video of the past practices, and I said, 'Do you realize how much I like this?' And he laughed?...?I feel very fortunate that Andy let me do what I did, because there's still some gas in the tank. I want to drive fast, too, and I want to go a long way."

Left guard Evan Mathis said it was good to have Mudd back.

"I think guys were a little more on their toes" with Mudd watching them in person, instead of reviewing video, Mathis said. "Everybody respects Eugune and everything he's done, but you step it up a little when Howard's here."

Tuesday was Mudd's first look at Demetress Bell on the practice field, working with the rest of the line. Mudd resisted suggestions that plugging in Bell for All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters, who tore his right Achilles', would be a gamble or an exploitable weakness.

"Jason is kind of one of a kind. I've only coached one other guy like that in my whole coaching career, that's that physical — Walter Jones [in Seattle], they're very much alike. But the truth of the matter is, I think Demetress has an unusual amount of athleticism, which we like here in our upfront stuff," Mudd said. "We can do a lot with that, and the mental toughness and eagerness to get the thing right. I'm really, really delighted that we have him. Is it hard to replace [Peters]? I don't even think about that. I just think this guy will help us win games."

Peters was especially effective getting to the second level, blocking downfield on runs to the outside, as LeSean McCoy gained 1,309 yards on 273 carries and led the NFL with 202 first downs. Will the Eagles have to do some things differently?

"I don't anticipate changing the entire offense because we don't have Jason Peters," Mudd said. "Will some of the things be less spectacular? Probably. But I'm going to say it again — we can win games with Demetress. We're going to win games with Demetress Bell."

Mudd reiterated that center Jason Kelce will now make protection calls at the line, as Jamaal Jackson and Hank Fraley did for quarterback Donovan McNabb. Last season, when Kelce was a rookie, Michael Vick made the calls.

Mudd said he feels the o-line is right where it should be, as it concludes the spring work. He said he told Kelce, "I feel like we're right where we left off last year, except you and Danny [Watkins, the other 2011 rookie starter] are even further along."

Mudd pondered the last time he'd coached a rookie "who played beyond his years" as much as Kelce did last year, after arriving in the sixth round from Cincinnati. "Kevin Mawae was like that" as a rookie in Seattle, Mudd finally decided. Mawae played 16 seasons and was an eight-time All-Pro.

Watkins, the first-round right guard who struggled initally in the wake of the NFL lockout, also got a strong endorsement.

Mudd said "trusting himself," was the biggest hurdle for Watkins, who didn't play football until he was 21. "I trusted him, and the rest of the coaches trusted him, but he would have some self-doubt," Mudd said.

Mudd said he told Watkins to make a read and stick with it, instead of wondering whether he was doing the right thing, and then playing tentatively.

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