Every rookie at the NovaCare Complex this weekend is going through a significant adjustment to life as a professional football player. The format and tempo of practice is often very different, as is the level of player on the field. But you can make a case that no position group is undergoing a more stark transformation than the offensive line. As they prepare to line up opposite a higher-quality caliber of pass rusher in the NFL, rookie offensive linemen for the Eagles are also adjusting to the Howard Mudd technique of blocking, which takes some getting used to.
"It's a little different coming from Purdue," said the Eagles' fifth-round pick Dennis Kelly, who has been working primarily at his collegiate position of left tackle this weekend. "That was a lot more straight back pass setting whereas now it's a lot more aggressive. But I like it. It kind of surprises the defense and kind of takes away their move, so I'm just getting used to it. Doing the technique and everything is the next step."
The transition is a little smoother for Brandon Washington, the guard selected in the sixth round by the Eagles. Prior to being moved to tackle in his senior season, Washington played guard for Miami (FL) where he was coached by Jeff Stoutland, who is now the offensive line coach for Alabama.
"He learned up under Howard Mudd," Washington said of Stoutland. "So I kind of got a headstart on some of the techniques they teach here so it feels no different. I just have to suck up everything like a sponge, listen to everything, and I should be great."
Washington's focus is also on easing back into his natural guard position.
"I'm back home, back at guard," he said. "I have to get back to the fundamentals and basics of playing guard. I'm still in the tackle mindset, kind of getting overset at times, kind of lead with my hands at times. At guard, you have to keep it firm in the middle."
Helping Kelly and Washington along in this transition is Eugene Chung, who is standing in for Howard Mudd as the offensive line coach this weekend. A first-round pick of the New England Patriots in 1992, Chung is plenty familiar with the process ahead for Kelly and Washington.
"I like him," Kelly said of Chung. "He's a lot of fun, but he also makes sure that we get everything done. In the meeting room, he likes to joke around, make sure that everyone's having a good time. There's not a lot of stress but at the same time he makes sure we're all going to work, figuring everything out."
Washington also has an in-place support system of fellow products of "The U." Along with undrafted rookie Jacory Harris, Washington is joined on the Eagles by fellow ex-Hurricanes Graig Cooper and Antonio Dixon.
"I feel at home in Philly for some reason, maybe because I want to be here," said Washington, who was told by Dixon prior to the draft that Philadelphia would be the perfect place for him. "I know what type of organization it is, what type of staff it is, so maybe because I want to be here I feel at home."
That comfort should certainly help as Washington prepares for the long road to his first NFL season. And for Kelly, the magnitude of the task at hand is beginning to sink in.
"It's exciting to be out here," Kelly said. "I was talking to the other rookies and it's kind of like, right now we're Philadelphia Eagles."
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