It isn’t everyday that we get to welcome a new head football coach to the Philadelphia area. In fact, it’s been 14 years since we’ve last had this opportunity. It’s an exciting time. New ideas, fresh blood, a revolutionary offensive mind and hope permeating every square foot of the Delaware Valley. Chip Kelly is the reason for that hope. Here’s Part 2 from The Spotter’s View on the Eagles 21st Head Coach.
The Disney-like Oregon mascot can thank Kelly for getting him into shape over these last six years. The Duck – after all – is relegated to doing one push up for each point scored by Oregon’s football team. At last count, that number was 2,915. That’s a lot of push ups over an 80 game span. And a lot points. No doubt, Kelly’s teams can score. His scheme is built entirely on the notion that pace allows for more plays which turns into more points. It worked at New Hampshire and excelled in Eugene.
But what about the defense? People are concerned about Kelly’s lack of credentials on the other side of the ball. The side concerned with stopping points, not scoring them. If you look at his history as a head coach – the answer is simple. Kelly doesn’t get involved with the defense. He delegates that side of the game to his defensive staff and he trusts in their abilities as coaches. Period. Or does he?…
Yes and no. He doesn’t necessarily get involved but his breakneck pace of offense certainly does impact his own defensive unit. Time of possession means nothing to Kelly. NOTHING. He’s focused on pace and constantly in pursuit of points.
The good news: it’s allowed his Oregon defense to face mostly one-dimensional offenses as opponents have been forced to throw while playing from behind.
The bad news: it’s unknown if Kelly’s pace-based offense will work full-time at the NFL level. I think he’s going to attempt it but if it fails in stretches and the three and outs begin to pile up….his own defense will be playing without a lead and looking for place to lie down. Exhaustion can be the unintended consequence of pace…..if it fails.
The responsibility will be on his new defensive coordinator to make it work. It can be a frustrating spot for a DC to have his unit put in unfavorable situations and take the brunt of the criticism for something that isn’t entirely his fault. But that’s the risk associated with taking this post and working alongside the offensive-minded Kelly.
Whoever that person winds up being had better have a strong backbone and be capable of motivating his troops. He also needs to have an established background of leading a defense given Kelly’s desire to stay out of the game plan on that side. The leading candidate for the job: Todd Grantham from the University of Georgia.
Grantham has an excellent defensive background having worked as a positional coach and coordinator at both the NCAA and NFL levels since 1990. He also has experience coaching a defensive unit as part of an organization that was offensively focused.
From 1999-2001, Grantham was the D-line coach of the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts. His unit was part of the biggest turnaround in league history registering 56 sacks in two years as the Colts went from 3-13 to 13-3. He saw both the good and bad sides of coaching for an offensively built team. Playing with a lead and being forced into tough spots when the offense sputters. It’s an experience that will be valuable to him if he indeed winds up in Philadelphia. As of this moment, he’s the leading candidate.
The Eagles hold the fourth overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Nobody is quite sure what Kelly and GM Howie Roseman will do with that pick when the clock starts ticking on April 25th. There are needs along the offensive line, at safety and surprisingly – at corner. Alabama CB Dee Milliner has been linked to this pick for the last few weeks by ESPN’s Draft Analyst Mel Kiper. Fills a need, fits the position of the pick and makes sense. But beyond the first pick, what else can we expect?
One thought that I had was former Oregon players who have declared for this year’s draft. Kelly would have an intimate knowledge of these players’ skills and more importantly, these players would have a graduate level understanding of the coaches scheme. Here are the six Ducks who are hoping to be picked on Draft Weekend:
- DE/OLB Dion Jordan: A 6’7″, 243 pound athletic edge player. He’s a two-time all Pac-12 honoree and a finalist for the Butkus Award. Top-10 talent. However, the Eagles have invested heavily on their defensive line over the last few seasons. Drafting Jordan wouldn’t make a lot of sense from a roster building perspective.
- RB Kenjon Barner: Rushed for 1,700 yards and 21 TDs last year in Kelly’s system as his featured back. Obviously, that experience is valuable and I’m sure his former coach would love to have him in Philly but with LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown already entrenched on the roster…..it’d be an extreme long shot to see Barner become and Eagle. Though I will say this: running the read-option takes a certain skill set and Barner has that over both McCoy and Brown. Projects as a late first round pick.
- OT Kyle Long: Son of Hall of Fame DE Howie Long. 6’7“, 311 pound unquestioned leader of Oregon’s front five. In a pace-based offense, sometimes the offensive line is the most difficult group to get up to speed – literally. It takes the right people upfront to make this work as 300-pound guys aren’t always in the best shape. Long makes a lot of sense in Philly too. If Kelly decides to bring him in, the Eagles could move Todd Herremans back to guard and have Jason Peters bookend Long as their two tackles. The Eagles were miserable upfront last year so….maybe? He’s projected as a second round pick.
- ILB Kiko Alonso – Day 2
- SS John Boyett – Day 3
- P Jackson Rice – Day 3
I can’t predict the future but I would be willing to bet that at least one of these Oregon players winds up in Philadelphia. These guys know Chip, they’ve experienced his system and he intimately understands each one of their skill sets.
Building a “Program”
The Eagles obviously love Kelly for his innovative approach and unique system. But according to owner Jeffrey Lurie, it was Kelly’s ability to “build a program” that sealed the deal. The Eagles are in need of a new approach – a successful approach. One that can reset the energy level of the players and reestablish this franchise as a contender.
They saw what he did at Oregon, taking an also-ran to four consecutive BCS Bowls. They were impressed with his ability to “Win The Day” – Oregon’s famous mantra echoed throughout Eugene. Kelly is a motivator, a compulsive competitor and by all accounts – a program builder. He has his hands full with a roster that has underachieved in back to back seasons. That much is clear. Let’s hope Kelly can turn this thing around as quickly as he did in the Great Northwest.
Practice Makes Perfect
I’ve done six Oregon games this season for ESPN and during my preparation for those games, I had a discussion with Chip about his practice habits. He told me it took him four years before he felt like his team reached the level of efficiency in practice that would allow his system to reach its’ full potential on game days. FOUR YEARS.
This issue hasn’t been discussed by many people as few understand the attention to detail that is required to make this offense “go”. There are no wasted movements. No wasted verbiage. It’s fast. It’s mono-syllabic. And it works. Only after it’s been perfected through repetition in practice. That means teaching pace and instilling the logistics of it into his players. It requires having a scout team that gives realistic looks by playing at full speed. It requires great conditioning and a willingness to practice as hard as you play. The idea is to make the practice portion of this system so demanding that the game itself becomes easy.
The challenge for Chip will be working within the NFL’s redefined practice rules and trying to get his new team to buy into his methodology. I’m thinking YouTube could help him here. Just pop on a few highlights of Kenjon Barner or D’Anthony Thomas streaking down the sidelines and I’m betting LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson will buy in. He can offer his scoring resume as proof that it works or point to the 4 BCS games he led Oregon to. In the end, he needs something to motivate his players.
This will likely be a far departure from what they’ve experienced previously in their careers. Could be a challenge but this really is non-negotiable. If the Eagles hope to operate this Nascar-like offense, they’ll need to spend some time on the track before that first green flag is waved. Practice does in deed make perfect.
The Patriot Way
Six Super Bowl appearances. 3 World Championships. 10 AFC East titles. New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick, has the resume of an all-time great. He’s arguably the brightest football mind the league has ever seen and is definitely among the best strategists. Where does Belichick turn to for information about increasing the volume of his offense? Who did he seek out? That’s right….Chip. A three-time Super Bowl winning, first ballot Hall of Fame, all-time legend has taken pieces of Kelly’s pace-based offense and brought it to New England.
You’re a fan that thinks Chip’s system is a “gimmick”. You work as a teacher or a firemen or you’re in sales. Your football-related knowledge is based entirely on playing Madden for 15 years or you regurgitate what you’ve heard on television. You don’t know that it’s a gimmick. You just decided to pick a side and blindly argue based on something you might’ve heard. Here’s my argument: Bill Belichick wouldn’t ask for football-related information from anyone on planet Earth unless he thought it would help him win. He asked Chip. Period.
Personal Anecdote: Loyalty
Back in 2010 I was asked to work an FCS Playoff game in Newark, DE between the Blue Hens and the Wildcats from UNH. As I did my pre-game lap around the field to say hello to a few friends of mine on the Delaware staff, I ran into Coach Kelly. We spoke for 15 minutes or so about Michael and my family. “Who’s doing what? Where is everyone? How’s Oregon? Oh….and by the way congrats”.
That was December 19th 2010. I said “congrats” because Chip would be leading his Oregon Ducks into the National Championship game against the Auburn Tigers on January 10th, 2011. Despite the pressure of playing on college football’s biggest stage and just 22 days before the game, Chip had the presence of mind to fly back across the country to support his former colleagues in their biggest game. (Anyone whose made that trip – from Eugene back to the East Coast – knows it’s a real journey. Two hour drive to Portland, six hour flight to Philly, another hour and change to Newark).
Yet, Chip did it to show his former colleagues that he was still “with” them.
He’s a UNH alum, he refined his coaching ability in Durham and he remains fiercely loyal to that program. It impressed me and it should impress you. This is a guy who already had the million dollar contract. He had the fancy uniforms and Autzen Stadium. He had the hype and Phil Knight and Nike. He was playing in the title game against Cam Newton….and yet – 22 days before kick, he traveled back across the country to watch the Wildcats in their playoff game. Pretty awesome.
Referees and The NFL Rules Committee
Haven’t heard this from anyone either but Chip and his A.D. Mike Bellotti had a hard time getting the referees in the Pac-12 to spot the ball quickly enough so the Ducks could run their warp-speed packages. It took some prodding on their part before the zebras were putting the ball down at a pace that was acceptable to the system’s standards.
I know…I’m nitpicking here. But if the NFL black and whites aren’t as quick to spot the football after every snap as the Pac-12 guys were, it would add some time for the defense to make a call. Let’s say the NFL refs are :05 slower on average. Count that in your head….1…..2…..3…..4…..5…..You can definitely communicate something of importance in that window of time. The Oregon system aimed for a mark of :15 seconds between snaps. Those five extra seconds – if the NFL refs aren’t as fast – would push that back to :20 seconds. The goal of Chip’s warp speed pace is to create doubt and confusion in the defense by limiting the time they have to communicate. Those five seconds are crucial to it’s success. It’s why Chip and Bellotti fought for them during their time together in Eugene.
Don’t be surprised if you hear about this in the pre-season. I’m almost certain you will. If it goes far enough, the NFL Rules Committee might even get involved. Innovation – at times – pushes the boundaries to the point of discomfort. Keep an eye out for an established, longtime head coach (or maybe a few of them) getting their doors blown off by Kelly’s system. If that happens, the status quo might start coalescing around some new rule aimed at slowing the game down. They’ll disguise it as “Player Safety”. Don’t believe me? It almost happened at the college level and may yet. Nick Saban’s exact words…
“I think that the way people are going no-huddle right now, that at some point in time we should look at how fast we allow games to go in terms of player safety,” Saban said. “You can’t substitute defensive players, you go on a 14-, 16-, 18-play drive and they’re snapping the ball as fast as they can and you look out there and all your players are walking around and can’t even get lined up.
“I mean that’s when guys have a much greater chance of getting hurt when they’re not ready to play. I think that’s something that can be looked at.”
“It’s obviously created a tremendous advantage for the offense when teams are scoring 70 points…I think there has to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking, “Is this what we want football to be?”
Why has the read-option been so successful and can it last? People remember the Wildcat trend that hit the league a few years ago and are quick to point out how quickly that fad evaporated. They apply that information to the read-option and think to themselves; “Gimmick! Defenses will definitely catch up to that”.
Yes….defenses eventually caught up to the Wildcat. But this isn’t the Wildcat. Here’s the basic reasoning: The QB running the read-option and having play-action consistently at his disposal – as opposed to a WR or RB doing it without the ability to consistently be a threat passing the football – makes this an entirely different animal. Consistently being a threat to throw is the key. It’s the added wrinkle that will keep defenses off-balance.
As a defender, you could be the unblocked guy who the QB “reads” on one play, the guy who is the option “pitch key” on the next play and then the guy who is targeted in play-action on the play after that. All from the same formation and the same run-action. The Wildcat never had all three facets consistently. The read-option scheme with the likes of RG3, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson does. Chip Kelly’s system (if he chooses a QB with running skills) will too. Trying to be aggressive as a defender while fighting through the doubt this scheme creates is a tough way to make a living.
The next five years are sure to be a thrilling ride for Eagles fans. I’m not sure a head coach has ever come into our city with this much fanfare surrounding him. Andy Reid was a complete unknown with zero gravitas. Ray Rhodes was considered a good defensive coach but not an impactful personality. Weird, yes. But impactful? No. Rich Kotite? He looked like an accountant and offered no reason for excitement.
Buddy Ryan is perhaps the last coach of the Eagles to bring with him an expectation, an excitement level and an innovative, proprietary idea. Ryan’s was the “46” defense. Kelly’s is the Warp Speed offense. It’ll be interesting to see if Kelly can succeed where Ryan failed – can he take his proprietary idea to a championship level as an NFL Head Coach?
We’re about to find out Philadelphia. Buckle your seat belts….