During the Peyton Manning era, the Indianapolis Colts had several very good coaches. Tony Dungy is going into the Hall of Fame this August. Tom Moore is one of the most respected offensive minds the NFL has ever seen. Two former assistants have been NFL head coaches (Jim Caldwell and Leslie Frazier). And Howard Mudd was as good of an offensive line coach as there was during his tenure in Indy.
Mudd coached the Colts’ offensive line from 1998-2009, directing a unit that allowed the fewest sacks in the league during that twelve-year span (218, an average of 18 per year). He enjoyed tremendous success with the group and is still highly-regarded in Indianapolis.
The Colts line has regressed drastically since the Howard Mudd days, but they aren't alone: Mudd told ESPN’s Tony Grossi recently that it's a league-wide problem. He really attributes this to two main things: the lack of practice time under the new CBA and coaching. In regards to the CBA, Mudd doesn’t think players get enough time to actually work on offensive line skills, as it’s all about conditioning and not about the ins and outs of actually being a lineman. It’s the second point, however, that I think has particular relevance to the Colts.
According to Howard Mudd, the state of offensive line coaches in the NFL today is not very good. Here’s a snippet from Grossi’s story:
“People in the NFL, they say these guys don’t know how to play, it takes us two years to coach them,” Mudd said. “We’ve been doing that for 40 years, coaching an offensive lineman who didn’t know how to play when they got here. Go coach them. My brow is furrowed because it pisses me off to say it’s their fault. It ain’t their fault. It’s your fault. Go coach them.”
Mudd is a champion of his profession while also being hard on it. He said there might be 10 or 11 really good offensive line coaches in the league today, citing two in the Browns’ AFC North division – Paul Alexander of Cincinnati and Mike Munchak of Pittsburgh.
“The rest are pretenders. Look at how many times the quarterback gets hit. Then we all cry because we don’t have quarterbacks. Then, [expletive], find somebody to protect them,” Mudd said.
It’s particularly interesting to note that Mudd doesn’t attribute the poor offensive line play in the NFL to sub-par talent; he attributes it to how those players are developed. In other words, it doesn't appear that he thinks the NFL has a talent problem up front as much as they have a development problem. The CBA limits that development, and then he thinks there are also plenty of coaches who aren’t very good at developing their lineman and instead hide behind the guise of college offenses.
This helps give insight into why the Colts made it such a priority to sign Joe Philbin as their offensive line coach this offseason. Owner Jim Irsay personally met with Philbin to try to persuade him on coming to the Colts and to emphasize the importance of the role in Indy. Other members of the Colts, especially head coach Chuck Pagano, have gone out of their way to praise and acknowledge Philbin this offseason. “We got lucky we got him,” Pagano has said. It’s clear that they think very highly of Philbin, and it’s clear that they also consider his job to be of utmost importance.
The Colts went out and added talent along their offensive line with the likes of Ryan Kelly, Le’Raven Clark, Joe Haeg, and Austin Blythe in the NFL Draft, but they need someone to help develop those players and others already on the roster. We know that they consider the role important, and I think Howard Mudd’s comments help us understand why. If there really is a development problem across the league instead of a talent problem, then the biggest thing the Colts could do is to bring in a guy capable of developing players. The Colts think they have that in Philbin, who is a respected offensive line coach, and that could lead to an improved line almost right away.