The Colts shocked many in the football world when they decided to move on from offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo this offseason. The Colts had one of the best offensive lines in football under DeGuglielmo as they gave up the least amount of sacks in the league with a line that consisted of two rookies. He played a big part in the team’s success but Frank Reich wanted a more experienced and technical coach going forward.
After a long and anticipated search, the Colts decided to bring in Chris Strausser from Denver. Strausser has 31 years of coaching offensive line under his belt and has worked with many pro prospects in his long career. On top of adding Strausser, Ballard and Reich were able to convince legendary coach Howard Mudd to come out of retirement and return to the team as a Senior Offensive Assistant.
Mudd is one of the godfathers of offensive line play but he has a very unique method when it comes to offensive line technique that should help with the development of this young line. In this piece, we are going to go in depth and look at how the teachings of both Mudd and Strausser can help the development of the young right tackle Braden Smith.
The “Mudd Technique”
So what is the “Mudd Technique” and why is it different? To get the answers to these questions, I asked Erik Turner— founder of Cover1.net and film analyst for the Athletic— for some insight on Mudd and his teachings. Turner wrote an excellent piece on Washington Offensive Tackle Kaleb McGary on how Mudd— and Chris Strausser— coached him in this unique technique.
So what is the biggest difference in this technique from traditional offensive line coaching? According to Turner, the most important aspect of this system is aggressiveness. “He believes in aggressive pass sets. Why wait to start the fight— like typical vertical pass sets— he wants his lineman to jump pass rushers and take the fight to them.” Look at this video here posted by Turner to further explain that aggressive mindset.
Love Howard Mudd's pass pro philosophies. I'm sick of vertical sets.— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) October 6, 2018
Set shorter, go get him
Aggressive, passive, aggressive (Not passive, aggressive, passive (vert sets)
Shake hands, start at the endpoint
All passes are play action, go hit em pic.twitter.com/tRW1BXDxRm
The other biggest aspect of this technique is the ability to adjust on the fly. “He wants his lineman to be problem solvers, not robots,” noted Turner. “Do whatever it takes to keep the offensive lineman’s body between the rusher and the quarterback.” He prefers his players to be smart but simplistic in what they look to accomplish. Be versatile and nuanced in your technique but understand that the only goal is to keep your quarterback clean no matter what. Again, look at this video posted by Turner to understand how Mudd’s lineman practice this technique.
Howard Mudd is a treasure— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) April 6, 2019
"That's kind of a half-assed, ass block. Yeah it is, theres an ass block. The ass block was invented by a guy that lives in Cincinnatti." pic.twitter.com/hLqQNzVtdp
Whether it is an “ass block” or driving players into the ground, Mudd’s philosophy is simple. Keep the quarterback clean no matter what. Expect to see more non-traditional techniques from the Colts this season with aggressive pass sets and more unconventional blocking to reach the overall goal.
The Chris Strausser Effect
So Howard Mudd is the Senior Offensive Assistant but Chris Strausser is the offensive line coach. How do his methods differ from Mudd’s? Not much really. When Strausser was the Offensive Line coach at Washington University, Mudd lived nearby and served in an advisory role for the team. Mudd was actually the reference the Colts used when considering to hire Strausser for the offensive line coach job.
So there is already a built in relationship between the two. Strausser is an experienced coach in his own right as he has coached offensive line play for 31 years, 28 years at the collegiate level. Once he met and developed a relationship with Mudd though, he quickly began instituting his techniques and teachings in his own style.
We saw it earlier with a few of the Washington clips above but what about last season when Strausser was the offensive line coach for the Broncos? Did the “Mudd Technique” show up when he was away from Howard Mudd’s tutelage? The short answer is yes, plenty of these techniques popped up on Broncos film last season.
Lets look at Left Tackle Garrett Bolles and how he used these techniques last season. Looking first at his aggressive sets, he utilized this a lot. He attacked talented pass rusher Myles Garrett all game when they faced the Browns and overall had a very solid game while using that technique. Here are a few examples of his aggressive sets in that game:
As for the other major point in the “Mudd Technique”, Bolles shows that he knows how to think on the fly and find his block by any means necessary. Look at this next clip as he shows off the patented “ass block” that Mudd talked about earlier in this piece:
Although Chris Strausser is the Offensive Line coach for this team, he has been influenced by Howard Mudd in recent years and has adopted many of his teachings and techniques.
Impact on Braden Smith
So to this point, we have talked a lot about Howard Mudd and Chris Strausser and their philosophies for offensive lineman. How do those philosophies affect the offensive tackles of the Colts though? Let’s look at one player in particular, Braden Smith. He is a very unique player on the Colts line as he was drafted to play guard before moving to offensive tackle early in the season due to injuries.
Smith locked down the starting right tackle spot and became a valuable starter on one of the best offensive lines in football. He should benefit the most though from the teachings of Strausser and Mudd this season, as he had his fair share of struggles in typical vertical pass sets and was at his best when he was aggressive and attacking opposing pass rushers. Let’s look at a few examples:
Smith was at his best last season when he could attack. He was an excellent run blocker and his best pass blocking reps came in the play action game. Looking at his run blocking, he is a big and powerful player who is athletic enough to move players whenever he wants to.
The core fundamental belief in the “Mudd Technique” is to block in every pass set like it is play action. Be aggressive and attack like you would on a play action play call. Smith attacks on this play action play call and shows that this could be a style that he could play well in. More attacking and less vertical sets could benefit him.
Unfortunately for Smith and the Colts last year, they asked him to play more passively and do more vertical sets in his blocking. He still put together a great rookie season but a lot of his struggles came in these sets. His kick step was rather slow and he allowed players to get into his body too often. Look how much he gets pushed back here by the much smaller Dee Ford. The passive vertical set by Smith along with his raw footwork at the position, allows Ford to drive him back into the pocket.
You can see how uncomfortable he was last season in these sets and how much he was thinking in his poorer games. When a player is thinking more about his technique rather than protecting the quarterback, that is where mistakes happen. Getting Smith into a more comfortable system where he has to be, as Mudd put it, “a problem solver.” Rather than perfecting a traditional technique, Smith will be able to focus on just the main goal of keeping his quarterback clean.
The additions of Chris Strausser and Howard Mudd should really help this offensive line jump from one of the best in the league to perhaps the best in the league. The biggest question mark or player to develop though is Braden Smith at right tackle. A conventional offensive line coach would likely have their hands full with a player like Smith as it is so rare that a player plays tackle in the NFL after rarely playing it in college. Mudd is quite different though.
“(Mudd) is not a conventional thinker and he doesn’t want his players to play that way. So his methods can apply to any type of player. What he teaches is unconventional so even the savviest technicians may struggle with what he teaches because its not what they were taught their entire career. He wants his players and coaches to ‘dare to be different.’ He wants his players to think outside of the box.” - Turner
Going into his second year in the NFL, Smith won’t have to be focusing on perfecting his kick step or polishing his technique as much. He’ll be able to get back to doing what he does best which is attacking on the outside and keeping his quarterback clean. This should be a major aspect in his development and I fully expect him to make a huge leap this upcoming season as a result.