The preamble was longer than the answer.
After Chip Kelly introduced his coaching staff at the NovaCare Complex on Monday, the individual assistants broke off for one-on-one interviews in the lunch room just down the hall from the auditorium. New offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland had quite a crowd around him. Given how poorly that particular unit did last season, the assembly wasn’t surprising.
In one drawn-out, winding question, Stoutland was asked to describe himself, his style and his approach. The reporter was evidently looking for a lengthy answer. He got one word instead.
“Aggressive,” Stoutland replied. Then he waited for the next question.
Kelly made a point of saying that it’s important to have line coaches that are “tough guys.” He said he has exactly that with Stoutland.
“Jeff, real simply, is a creative, cutting-edge offensive line coach with old-school toughness,” Kelly said. “When you meet Jeff and you have a chance to visit with him, he’s extremely intelligent. He has a way of making complex things vey simple. But he also has an edge to him. That’s what I want.”
That’s evidently what he’ll get. When Stoutland was asked to further explain his personality, he said he’s “full of energy. Lots of energy.”
He’ll need it. Stoutland is charged with remaking an offensive line that had a disastrous 2012 campaign under Howard Mudd. The Eagles allowed 48 sacks last season, fifth most in the NFL. Only the Cardinals, Packers, Jaguars and Chargers were worse.
If you’re wondering whether the offensive line will call different pass and/or run protection schemes depending on the quarterback, Stoutland said that won’t be the case even though Michael Vick and Nick Foles obviously have very different skill sets. Actually, when asked whether the offensive line would change its approach depending on who’s under center, Stoutland gave another one-word answer: “No,” he said simply.
Many of the line’s recurring problems last year were tethered to the sweeping injuries that felled almost the entire unit. Jason Peters tore his Achilles before the season began and never played a game. Jason Kelce suffered a knee injury and was placed on injured reserve in September. Todd Herremans went on IR in November after hurting his ankle. And Danny Watkins missed several games -- also, reportedly, because of an ankle issue.
“That’s the key, everybody getting healthy,” Stoutland said. “There’s a lot of talent on this offensive line. Like anything else, usually when you’re healthy and you get through the year with mega injuries, you do pretty good.”
Stoutland said he studied Peters for “many, many years” and showed his film as an excellent example of solid left tackle play. He sounded convinced that, if healthy, Peters will return to Pro Bowl form.
With Watkins, health isn’t the only concern. The former first-round draft pick struggled at times even when he appeared to be fine physically. Stoutland said he’s still evaluating his linemen, but when asked whether he expects Watkins to compete for a starting job, he didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely,” Stoutland said. “Danny is a winner. You can win with Danny. He’s very athletic. With offensive linemen, you look to see if they have the appropriate size. Then you want to make sure they’re explosive and they have good athleticism. These guys on the other side of the ball, they’re all athletes and they have tremendous explosiveness to them. You have to have guys on the offensive line that can compete with that. He has that.”
Like Kelly, Stoutland is making the transition from college to the professional ranks.
Stoutland coached the last two seasons at the University of Alabama. Last year, the Crimson Tide had two All-Americans on the offensive line, along with a second-team All-American. In 2011, Alabama allowed the second-fewest sacks in the SEC.
Before landing in Tuscaloosa, Stoutland coached offensive line at the University of Miami for four years. He was also the interim head coach in 2010 for one game after the Hurricanes fired Randy Shannon.
Stoutland started his career as the inside linebackers coach at Southern Connecticut in 1984. He also coached offensive line at Syracuse for three seasons; Donovan McNabb was the Orange quarterback for two of them.
“Every player, every coach aspires one day to make it to the NFL,” Stoutland said. “It’s the ultimate level of football … I just felt like this would be an unbelievable opportunity at the right place.”