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The Howard Mudd Question



    I think most position coaches have basically three jobs: (1) find talented players, (2) teach those players to improve, and (3) organize a scheme that best enhances the strengths and masks the weakness of those players. To separate a job into just three components is probably vastly oversimplifying the process. Moreover, it eliminates the substantial crossover between those jobs.

    Still, I think it's a good framework for evaluating position coaches to the best of our ability. For example, Eagles running backs coach Ted Williams has been very successful grooming RBs over the years. Although everyone has his misses (see: Hunt, Tony), Williams has found quality players in all rounds of the draft and has coached many of them up to be at least contributors, and often Pro Bowlers. I would argue that he's very good at jobs one and two. Unclear about three, since the scheme the RBs play in has as much to do with the offensive coordinator and line coaches.

    Jim Washburn is another good test case. His wide nine-based scheme shows that job three is one of his biggest strengths. Look at how it transformed Jason Babin from the part time player in 2009 to the full time monster in 2011. Washburn also doesn't seem to have any trouble teaching his guys. Trent Cole had one of his most productive seasons last year, as did Mike Patterson. Philip Hunt and Brandon Graham both look to have made strides this year. Whether Washburn can pick talent players is more of a question, but we will get to see with Fletcher Cox.

    Can we evaluate Howard Mudd under those same basic criteria? I think so, and I don't think it comes out as favorably as we might expect for him.

    The key thing about Mudd we've heard since the day he arrived in Philadelphia was his scheme, much like Washburn. Mudd takes smaller, athletic linemen and puts them on the attack, even in pass protection. He likes getting his linemen in space on stretch runs to maximize their athleticism. This is more or less the opposite scheme Juan Castillo employed while the line coach, leading to an exodus of big-bodied former starters like Winston Justice and Jamaal Jackson. The scheme, as evidenced by last year's reduction in sacks, clearly works. It maximized the pound-for-pound destruction of human wrecking ball Jason Peters and covered up the deficiencies of two rookies and one career journeyman in the interior. It also paved the way for LeSean McCoy to have a blockbuster season.

    But Mudd's success at the first and second job requirements is in question. Starting with the teaching side of the equation, I think you have to seriously doubt his ability when it seems so difficult for veterans to learn his scheme (especially compared to Washburn). Demetress Bell is the latest example. He may just be bad, but when healthy Bell was supposedly a solid, athletic tackle in Buffalo. Since coming to the Eagles he's looked like he's forgotten how to block. More to the point, I don't see much improvement from the Eagles two sophomores, especially Danny Watkins. I'm no offensive line expert, but Watkins was beat often in that game. And he wasn't going up against Vince Wilfork here. Those were New England's third and even fourth string defensive tackles.

    The Watkins pick, as it stands right now, seems like a failure of both jobs one and two. Ideally you pick a guy with more talent in the first round. But if the talent is there, as most draft experts thought it was, Watkins's slow development has to be blamed on Mudd's teaching skills. At this point, it's worth noting that in his 12 years  with the Colts, Mudd had only two players ever reach the Pro Bowl. One was undrafted free agent Jeff Saturday (Kelce's predecessor) and the other was tackle Tarik Glenn, who was drafted the year before Mudd became OL coach. His scheme -- along with Peyton Manning's renowned skills -- helped make Indianapolis a great offense for years, but Mudd was never a great discoverer or developer of talent.

    In the short term, as long as Watkins gets some help, this isn't such a big problem. The scheme worked last year and it should work again, even without Peters. Mudd will hopefully continue to stitch together a puzzle from mismatching pieces. But what about when he retires, which rumors suggest may be as soon as the end of the season? Suddenly, Eugene Chung will become the coach. He won't have decades of experience perfecting Mudd's scheme. Nor can we expect, in his early years, he would have any particular scouting or teaching prowess. Yet Chung would be left holding the bag on a group of linemen that may not be as good as the scheme would make you believe.

    That's the most worrisome part.​