Philadelphia Eagles News

Mudd's Task: Overcome Injuries

Taken in the broad view, the Eagles' offensive line is potentially down to its third-string left tackle (Demetress Bell) and second-string center (Dallas Reynolds) on the way to a cross-country trip to Arizona on Sunday.

The Cardinals are no garden-variety defense, either. They run the same scheme as do the Steelers, one that has always given the Eagles fits. Arizona has a 3-4 front with a lot of changing looks and pressure packages and a ton of speed off the edge.

An undefeated team, Arizona is led by its defense, one that chased New England quarterback Tom Brady all over the field last week and is sure to give quarterback Michael Vick looks he has not seen before this season.

So it is Mudd's task to take an injury-depleted offensive line and make it great. Gone from the offseason blueprint is left tackle Jason Peters, the best at his position in the game (and if you want to make an argument, Peters ranks no further down the list than two or three) and second-year center Jason Kelce, whom the Eagles believed would make a Pro Bowl run before this season was all said and done.

Toss in the fact that King Dunlap, the starter at left tackle during the first two weeks of this season, could miss the game with a hamstring injury and that the new center, Dallas Reynolds, has played in exactly one regular-season game, that last Sunday, and you understand the enormous coaching job Mudd is going to have to do at University of Phoenix Stadium with a howling audience inspired by the Cardinals' 2-0 start in a dome environment.

I just finished watching the Giants destroy Carolina on Thursday night and it served as a reminder of just how important coaching is in this league. The Giants traveled on a short week and went into Carolina shorthanded, especially on offense, and put on a clinic against the Panthers. Carolina was helpless in every phase of the game and was thoroughly outplayed, outcoached and outclassed. The Giants showed how Super Bowl teams performed. The Panthers showed that they have a long way to go.

And so part of me says that the Eagles must take the cue the Giants offered and show what they are made of and take care of business the same way against the Cardinals. Of course, though, the expectation here is that Arizona will be much more prepared, more talented and more capable of playing a strong game than were the Panthers, who flat-out sucked on national television.

Anyway, back to Mudd. He is turning to Demetress Bell at left tackle, the player the Eagles signed who was expected to replace Peters from the get go in the spring. Bell held his starting job until the preseason, when it just became obvious to all that he was struggling adjusting to Mudd's demands. Bell didn't have his footwork down and was beaten to the edge on one play and then inside on the next in preseason games.

Before too long, Dunlap was the starter, and he did a fine job in Cleveland and then again against the Ravens until a hamstring injury sent him to the sidelines.

In came Bell, and he dominated Baltimore first-round draft pick Courtney Upshaw as the Eagles' offense surged to the fourth-quarter lead and the ultimate win. It was an incredibly encouraging performance for an offensive line that would benefit tremendously from good play from Bell. The Eagles signed the young veteran because they liked his athletic ability and the experience gained from starting for three seasons in Buffalo.

What the Eagles didn't anticipate was that Bell would take so long to adjust to what Mudd wanted. His is a very specific style and there is no bending of the rules. Decades of success are Mudd's proof of his genius.

So now it appears, we hope, that Bell has rounded the corner and is on the way to claiming back his starting job at left tackle, with great success ahead. We can hope, right? ...

That is one part of the offensive line puzzle that needs to be solved. Reynolds starts at center after three years on the practice squad and then a huge leap forward in the preseason this year. It was not a surprise at all that he made the 53-man roster because Reynolds was terrific in the preseason.

But to have Reynolds now as the starter -- with veteran Steve Vallos as the backup -- is an unforeseen scenario.

Is he up to the task? How hard will it be for Reynolds to handle the crowd noise in Arizona and the first start of his career in such an important early-season game?

This is where coaching comes in, folks, and Sunday represents another chance to appreciate the brilliance of Mudd and his way of teaching. The Eagles are down some substantial talent along the offensive line for this game. Are they up to the task against a good defense?

Mudd has been down the road before, many times. In his second season here, Mudd has a chance to again enhance his legendary status among NFL offensive line coaches. If you don't think the difference between good and very good and great in the league is coaching, well, let's see what happens as the Eagles take to the field with two new pieces along the offensive line in a decibel-shattering environment.

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