Offensive line coach Howard Mudd remembers his scouting notes leading up to the 1997 NFL draft.
Yes, Ohio State’s Orlando Pace was a very good left tackle, he thought, but this Walter Jones kid at Florida State may be so dominant he ends up changing the way the position is played.
Pace was the first pick and, indeed, ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Seahawks then took Mudd’s advice and selected Jones with the sixth pick, and he lived up to Mudd’s expectations, being inducted into the Hall last summer.
“They just don’t make many Walter Joneses,” Mudd said Wednesday.
And that seems increasingly true in recent years.
For all the lamenting over the problems of finding quality quarterbacks to supply the NFL, tackles seem even rarer.
In the last five drafts, starting in 2011, 14 quarterbacks were taken in the first round. Five made at least one Pro Bowl appearance (35 percent). In the same span, 22 players listed as tackles went in the first round, but only two have made Pro Bowls (9 percent).
Mudd, an NFL O-line coach for nearly 40 years and an All-Pro player in the 1960s, has some theories. He was on hand Wednesday at a fundraiser for the Lake Washington Schools Foundation.
Jones, who has two children in the district, served as the main attraction, answering questions from ESPN’s John Clayton.
Afterward, when asked to identify traits common among the great tackles he’s seen over the decades, Mudd listed the attributes that set Jones apart: great balance, light feet and heavy hands, and not only a competitiveness, but also an inherent understanding of the game.
“We called it ‘FBI’ — football intelligence,” Mudd said.
The college game now, he said, is like fast-break basketball, featuring the playmakers (quarterbacks, running backs, receivers), “and all the other best players they put on defense and say, ‘do what you can to stop them.’”
And the young players, who pay attention to fantasy football, focus on the positions that compile stats.
“(NFL) offensive linemen get paid a lot, but if I’m a big, strong, fast guy growing up, I don’t know that there’s any notoriety being an offensive linemen,” Mudd said.
The last Seahawks offensive line draft pick who earned a second contract was center Max Unger, picked in 2009. While the Hawks’ offense in recent seasons has been productive, it’s not been because of consistently high performance by the offensive line.
And it is considered an area of focus when the Hawks enter the 2016 draft next week.
There don’t seem to be any Walter Joneses in this class, once again. Maybe part of that is they’re lacking role models.
Jones said Wednesday that from a very young age he was driven to be great, and that was fueled by seeing the dominance of Bengal great Anthony Munoz.
As Munoz did, Jones wanted to “come into the game and earn my respect, even if I was a high draft pick.”
Like Munoz, Jones always played with a sense of dignity. From tiny Aliceville, Alabama, he was quiet and humble.
He never gloated when he pancaked an opponent and never made excuses on those rare times he was beaten. He played hard and he played hurt; he respected the game and the men who played it.
For 12 seasons, he played with obvious pride but no visible ego.
Clayton commented on the remarkable season when Jones held out of training camp under the “franchise” tag, but showed up the first week of the regular season and went 16 straight games without giving up a sack.
Over the length of his career, Jones had a medical condition that made him unable to take pain medication.
How could he stay on the field at that position?
“I should thank my mom, because she made a big and strong kid,” he joked.
Seriously, “you want to show your team that you want to play the game, that you always wanted to be on the field and accountable to your teammates,” he said.
Having been a part of the NFL for so many decades, Mudd said he thought that the development of top-flight linemen might go in cycles, that this may just be a temporary lull.
But, as he said, they just aren’t making any more Walter Joneses.