New Eagles assistant has to make offensive line Stout
TWO YEARS of bad offensive lines cost Andy Reid his job.
Two years of injury and inexperience up front cost Michael Vick two concussions, five injured ribs and millions of dollars.
Lousy blocking and confused assignments cost the Eagles' organization two precious seasons of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek, all in their prime.
Those players, and Vick, have one last chance to again set defenders quivering in their quilts on Saturday nights.
That chance lies in the lap of beefy, bifocaled offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
No coach on Chip Kelly's new staff has a more important job.
Not Billy Davis, the team's third defensive coordinator in five seasons, who seems intent on installing a high-maintenance package for his low-performance units.
Not offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, the latest Vick tutor, who hopes to avoid the trail of wreckage Vick has made of his predecessors.
Not even Kelly, with no NFL experience, a quirky, undefinable offense and a sea full of doubters.
Nothing those three do will matter unless Stoutland produces.
Stoutland, 51, spent the last 11 seasons molding huge young men at Division I colleges into viable professional linemen, including five he coached at Alabama last year, three of whom could be first-round picks in April.
Then again, at 51, Stoutland has no experience coaching actual professional linemen.
Juan Castillo melded a dizzying number of philosophies and techniques into a unique, effective scheme for the Eagles. Castillo helped left tackle Jason Peters and guard/tackle Todd Herremans play their best.
Howard Mudd succeeded Castillo in 2011, retaught Peters, who also had played in Buffalo, and Herremans, who not only had to learn Mudd's distinctive style but also was forced to move from left guard to right tackle in 2011.
Further, Peters and Herremens are coming off catastrophic injuries. It so happens that Peters should not worry about changing much. Peters, a textbook mauler who has five Pro Bowl notches, long has been the template for Stoutland's left tackles. Sophomore left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio emulated Peters this season at Alabama and made great strides.
"I would show his film to my left tackles, whatever school I was at. The set-lines he would take," Stoutland said, his short, gray hairs almost standing on end, such is his admiration.
Peters might be set, but Stoutland has plenty of work to do.
Promising center Jason Kelce, who also missed most of 2012 with an injury, quickly absorbed Mudd's teachings. So did veteran Evan Mathis, who revived his career under Mudd. Then again, that pair is smart enough to absorb Stephen Hawking's teachings.
That has not been the case with right guard Danny Watkins, the 2011 first-round disappointment who, at 28, has started in only 65 football games, since he never played until he went to junior college . . . at the age of 22. He was benched for most of last season.
Nevertheless, in him, Stoutland sees great promise.
"I think Danny's a winner. He's very athletic," Stoutland said, his short, gray hairs almost standing on end again. "You look to see they have appropriate size, and that they're explosive, and that they have athleticism. The guys on the other side of the ball are all athletes. You have to have guys on the offensive line who can compete with that. He has that."
Well, it is Stoutland's job to unearth that, whatever it is. Given 2 years, Mudd, a genius of a man, could not.
Perhaps Mudd's hyper-cerebral approach, his demand that his linemen conceptualize and innovate, was just too much for Watkins.
Do not expect Stoutland's linemen to be subject to anything hyper-cerebral.
"He has a way of making complex things simple," Kelly said.
When asked whether he subscribes to Castillo's version of the vertical-drop style or to Mudd's jump-set, Stoutland said, "There's many, many ways to scheme. To skin a cat. Players need to visualize what it is you're trying to teach."
Which is . . .
"There's times for both of those types of sets," Stoutland said. "We utilize both of those. You've got to be able to do both."
Alabama utilized both techniques better than any college line in the country last season; better than any line in school history; perhaps as well as any line in the history of college football.
As such, there was nowhere for Stoutland to go but pro. The Eagles might have been a four-win team in 2012, but Stoutland gushed about the talent level on his line if everyone returns healthy, and he knows the skill players - Vick, et al - can again be great if his line is adequate.
"Every coach aspires one day to make it to the NFL. It's the ultimate level of football," said Stoutland, his New York accent betraying him as he warmed to the moment. He might have had other offers, but, he said, "When I went to Alabama two seasons ago, I felt the same thing I feel now. I just feel like there's something happening here."
If something good happens, it will all start with him.