Saturday, November 28, 2015

Mudd on Kelce and more

Howard Mudd is many things, but boring he is not.

Mudd on Kelce and more

Howard Mudd gave Jason Kelce high marks for his college career. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Howard Mudd gave Jason Kelce high marks for his college career. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

Howard Mudd is many things, but boring he is not.

So when I was granted the very rare privilege of interviewing the Eagles offensive line coach about guard Danny Watkins last week I knew I was going to have a notebook full of interesting anecdotes. Here's the resulting article about the education of the Eagles' top draft pick.

Knowing how much readers and fans wanted to hear from the venerated Mudd I tried to jam in as much as I could. Andy Reid typically does not allow his assistants to be interviewed in-season. Far as I know this may have been the first time. (More on how that happened further down.)

I was granted about 12 minutes and the topic was to be about Watkins, but I managed to sneak in a few questions about other topics. Mudd's take on his preference for smaller, athletic linemen is in the story above, but he dispelled one theory about his influence in drafting Watkins.

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Some have suggested the pick was strictly Mudd's since Watkins fits the mold of the linemen the 69-year-old coach prefers -- Mudders, as they are referred as.

“I think he’s a Reider, too," Mudd said. "Andy Reid likes him. Everyone in the building liked him. We all loved him.”

Still, the Eagles later took two interior linemen that were even smaller than Watkins -- the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Julian Vandervelde and the 6-2, 282-pound Jason Kelce, who has started all season. Kelce was taken in the sixth round.

“There’s a whole bunch of people that didn’t want to make a do with him -- including ourselves-- so we drafted him in the 100th round or something," Mudd said. "I loved him as a football player, and so did Howie [Roseman], and so did Andy. Loved him. ‘God, what a great player.' So he turned out to be that same kind of player here. Who would have thunk?”

Kelce immediately took to Mudd's style of blocking. Watkins, who showed up late for camp, needed more time. And then there were some veterans, who had only been coached by former o-line coach Juan Castillo in the pros and who never came around to Mudd's technique. It was difficult for both the players and the coach, who had been in Indianapolis for 12 seasons before a brief one-year retirement.

"We had all these other people that were somewhat lost, as well," Mudd said. "They were just as lost as [Watkins] was. I hadn’t been in that situation for a while.”

Linemen like Mike McGlynn and Austin Howard were released, while old vets like Jamaal Jackson and Winston Justice were demoted. Mudd's prickly demeanor has rankled some of his players, but most have come to understand his motivation. He's almost like a drill sergeant preparing his soldiers for battle, weeding out the weak ones with a certain form of abuse.

With Watkins, Mudd had a greater project because of his relative inexperience playing football. When the rookie made a mistake early on or was berated he let it affect him on the next play. Mudd had to almost turn Watkins into a machine.

"It’s a process that he’s going through and yet what he’s doing is he’s starting to learn is how do I identify a specific part of a technique or a play, find his trigger and go play, fairly regularly, without getting distracted or obsessed about what went on before," Mudd said. "‘See, I didn’t do that well. OK, we got to play the next play in 30 seconds. Let’s go. Got to go. Got to get rid of it.’”

Readers who follow the Eagles closely know that Reid doesn't allow his assistants to talk. Well, technically the team won't say that, but it's understood. In the past, a reporter would ask to speak to a coach and would later be told that said coach didn't want to talk. But, really, it was Reid wanting to control the message that emanates from the NovaCare Complex.

To be fair, the Eagles have one of the best public relations departments in all of professional sports and do allow more access in areas that other teams don't. We get the coordinators once a week, almost always after games, and sometimes on Mondays. A lot of teams don't go that far. We also have two open locker room sessions during practice days while many teams only have one.

Still, after a while it's tough to get usable comments from Reid and his chief coordinators -- Marty Mornhinweg and Juan Castillo -- on the record. Some of us have relationships with assistants and can get information off the record, but that often isn't of value to the readers.

Mudd is a fountain of information, a veteran coach that shoots from the hip. I had the honor of speaking to him for about 90 minutes in the spring because the Eagles allowed access to certain coaches during the lockout. I learned more about how offensive linemen block in that interview than in my 30 years of watching the sport.

Anyway, I was working on a story about Watkins for this past Sunday and decided to ask the Eagles for Mudd. A shot in the dark. To my surprise, yes was the answer. Later I had found out, because of certain complaints, the league had told the Eagles they must start to allow some access to their assistant coaches.

In other words, I got lucky. I think in the end, though, the readers will be the lucky ones.

I'm going after Jim Washburn next.

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Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

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