Save for the 2010 season, when he was retired, Howard Mudd has been an offensive line coach in the NFL every year since 1974. During that time, he has been charged with protecting Hall of Famers Dan Fouts and Warren Moon, in addition to the likes of Jim Plunkett and Bernie Kosar. And of course, Mudd also worked hand in hand with Peyton Manning for 12 years with the Indianapolis Colts.
So after one season working with Michael Vick, how does the Eagles offensive line coach rank his quarterback among the other signal-callers he's helped keep clean?
"Where does he fit in? He fits in as Mike Vick," Mudd said earnestly. "Highly motivated. Of course he's a great athlete, great arm, wow, but he's highly motivated to succeed. He wants, and works really hard, to overcome his instinct to, when a little something goes wrong, to take off. Well, take off and create something. He's working really hard to do all these things everybody's been writing about, to go take care of yourself. He works hard at that, and he wants it, which is critical, and he understands it, that's another critical part. I like him a lot. I like him as a person first of all, and I respect his work ethic."
But does Mudd approach his offensive line differently with the mobile Vick as opposed to the decidedly less mobile Manning?
"I'm going to categorically say no," said Mudd. "I mean, we can only do what we can do, which is, there's a spot right there. That's the original throwing spot right there and that's what we're going to protect and we're going to try to do it until the ball is thrown. And then, if Mike takes off, if it's one of us breaking down, we correct that guy. Now, do I expect him to throw from there every time? Probably not, because you're taking away his athleticism. That's one of the valuable things that he has. We're going to start in one spot and protect it as best we can.
"The only thing that we really stress is the depth of the pocket, because Mike isn't real tall, so the more separation, when he gets to his throwing spot, the more separation you can have between the original line, if you will, and Mike. It's really important so that he feels, 'Oh, there's a bunch of space here, I can see, I can deliver.'"
During Mudd's 12 seasons in Indianapolis, the Colts averaged a league-best 26.1 points and allowed a league-low 227 sacks, including the league's lowest total in six separate seasons. In 2011, the Eagles' protection of Vick improved considerably, as the team rose from 26th to 12th in sacks allowed per pass play (from 8.73 percent in 2010 to 5.78 percent in 2011). Mudd expects those numbers to continue improving, now that Vick has gotten used to Mudd's techniques himself. He was especially encouraged by the team's 4-0 run to close the season.
"It's all about trust," Mudd said. "Everything's all together. You look at a team that doesn't have very many sacks, let's say, and you look at it and it's a well-coordinated thing; it isn't all the offensive line. In many years in Indianapolis, it was this incredible record for sacks. Well, it wasn't all offensive line and it wasn't all Peyton (Manning). Peyton gets rid of it ... The 'it' part, Michael getting 'it' in the end of the year, in the sense of delivering the ball, knowing who's not blocked."
Because of the hard work Vick has put in this offseason and the quarterback's increased trust in the offensive line, Mudd believes that Vick is ready to "put it all together" in 2012, as long as the quarterback doesn't try to do too much.
"I think he knows that he's a critical part," said Mudd. "I would wish that he doesn't think he has to take on more than his part. Don't do it. Don't get hurt. And if somebody's loose, he knows that if he's got problems up front, he knows those guys are getting coached very hard. Don't let the guy get hit. Don't let him get hit. Don't let him get hit. And that's a mantra that we have."
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