Howard Mudd may be a few thousand miles from Eagles minicamp, but he is only a phone call away from critiquing Demetress Bell.
"Oh, he's still watching me," Bell said Wednesday. "He's still questioning me."
Mudd hasn't been at Eagles organized team activities for the last few weeks and isn't expected to be back in Philadelphia until the final minicamp, but the offensive line coach has kept up on his linemen from the practice videos the team has been sending him daily.
Most of his attention, it can safely be said, has been focused on his new starting left tackle. Bell, acquired in early April a week after all-pro Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles tendon, still has a lot to digest before he can be fully integrated into Mudd's unit.
But if there was one positive to come from Peters' injury, it was timing. Not only did it allow the Eagles enough time to sign a starting-caliber free agent, but it gave Peters' replacement a full offseason to learn the Eagles' offense and Mudd's peculiar blocking technique.
Bell, who first replaced Peters in Buffalo after he was traded to the Eagles in 2009, said he still has much to learn. Last week, for instance, Bell said, he spent a fair amount of time just getting used to each quarterback's snap count.
"[Michael] Vick's snap count is different than [Mike] Kafka's. And Kafka's is different than Trent Edwards'," Bell said Wednesday after practice. "And all of them are different than Ryan Fitzpatrick."
Bell briefly blocked for Edwards with the Bills, but spent the better part of the last three seasons protecting Fitzpatrick's blindside. He did so using the vertical step, a common blocking method in which a lineman steps backward to cut off a rusher in passing situations.
Mudd abhors the vertical step. His linemen attack.
"It's aggressive," Bell said of Mudd's technique. "It's nothing like I've been taught my first four years in the league. It's totally opposite - totally opposite. But I like it. I think it works into my favor, being athletic."
After the Eagles signed Bell to a five-year contract that guaranteed only one year, the 28-year-old spent as much time in Mudd's classroom as permitted. As he did last year with each Eagles lineman after Andy Reid hired him, Mudd sat with Bell in the film room and they watched his game tape together.
"That was the 'do-and-don't' time," Bell said. " 'Yes I do, no I don't.' "
To keep Mudd fresh before the grind of training camp and the season, the Eagles and the 70-year-old coach decided it would be best to limit his practice time during the spring. He has spent most of May at his residence in Arizona.
Mudd had hip-replacement surgery last October, but debilitating knees and a balky back from his playing days have forced him to coach mostly from a cart. Assistant Eugene Chung has been handling the offensive line since Mudd left.
Coach Andy Reid and the players have downplayed Mudd's absence, but if spring workouts were as important as the Eagles are saying after the lockout wiped out last year's OTAs, wouldn't they prefer to have Mudd here?
"I've had plenty of time with him, just learning the technique," Bell said. "I don't think that will be a problem, the more that I'm here."
Still, the Eagles can't wait until Mudd returns and "gets his hands on Bell," as one coach said. In the meantime, Todd Herremans has helped. Bell said that he's been sitting next to the right tackle during meetings and that Herremans has been a coach off the field.
"He's constantly asking me questions - 'What should [you] do here? What's Howard looking for here?' " Herremans said.
Bell will have a difficult time replacing Peters, a five-time Pro Bowl tackle. The Eagles aren't expecting miracles, however. But a (close-to) full offseason under Mudd's tutelage and a good bill of health - Bell missed 17 games in 2009 and 2011 because of knee and shoulder injuries - could give the Eagles all that they need.
"I'm more than confident I'll play all 16 games," Bell said. "It is football - things happen - but I feel like I'll have a breakout year."