I caught Brian Westbrook on a radio show this week. He talked about the Super Bowl and some general NFL topics. Eventually he was asked about Chip Kelly and the Eagles. Westy is a pretty good analyst. He knows the NFL better than some ex-players. He disappointed me with his comments on Kelly.
Like so many others, Westy is under the impression that Chip recruited a bunch of track stars and that Oregon just ran by and around teams due to sheer speed. He questioned whether this could work in the NFL, where all teams have speed. Ugh.
Chip did not have the fastest football team at Oregon. He had some explosive players, but not nearly as many as people like to think. LaMichael James was Kelly’s biggest star at Oregon. He ran 4.45 at the Combine, one of 8 RBs to go less than 4.50. That’s good speed, but hardly makes him some freak. Let’s look at some others:
2012 – TE David Paulson – 6-5, 246 – 4.93 (Combine)…improved to 4.70 at Pro Day
2012 – QB Darron Thomas – 6-3, 220 – 4.80 (Pro Day)
2012 – WR Lavasier Tuinei – 6-4, 220 – 4.53 (Pro Day)
2011 – WR Jeff Maehl – 6-1, 189 – 4.65 (Pro Day)
2010 – TE Ed Dickson – 6-4, 255 – 4.67 (Combine)
2010 – WR Cameron Colvin – 6-3, 210 – 4.65 (Pro Day)
So…um…where are all of the track stars?
Kelly has had one truly explosive player…De’Anthony Thomas. He’s just finished his Sophomore season. He’s got legit 4.4 type speed. The rest of these guys did not have the kind of speed people think. Too often people see the offense playing fast and mistake that for individual speed. That’s not the case.
The Oregon offense did play fast, but that involves more than running. Kelly got the plays in quickly. The players got to the LOS quickly. Adjustments were made quickly. The ball was snapped quickly. Run plays were often quick hitters. On pass plays the QB was taught to make quick reads and get the ball out to his receivers quickly. You don’t have to be fast to play fast.
Some of you will remember Loyola Marymount’s basketball team in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Coach Paul Westhead ran the most up-tempo style in the history of basketball. He taught his teams to shoot quickly. He wanted to attack all game long. The system was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Imagine an NBA all star game…every game. When it worked, the system was great. His teams scored a ton of points and could be fun to watch. They would wear down opponents…physically, mentally, and emotionally. Teams just weren’t used to scoring 110 points in a college game.
Chip Kelly has taken some of these principles and applied them to football. He wants his offense to attack quickly. Play fast. Put the defense on their heels. By doing this you wear them down…physically, mentally, and emotionally. You have to be in great shape to do this. Kelly pushes his players to be in great shape. It also requires great mental toughness to be able to play fast. You have to move quickly on the field before the ball is even snapped. This is something that must be drilled into a team.
The first time I ever noticed such a thing was when watching Dirk Koetter’s Arizona State team about a decade ago. I was at the game and noticed the Sun Devils broke the huddle by the 20 second mark every single play. Koetter wanted his QB to have enough time to get to the LOS and be able to make adjustments. He also wanted to run lots of plays and keep pressure on the defense. His players moved very quickly from the end of the play to the huddle. This wasn’t an accident. It was by design. Players were coached up and knew that was important.
Kelly teaches his team to move with purpose, on the practice field and in games. Everything is done in an up-tempo style. This prepares players so that they’ll be fast in games. Opposing players are not always ready. They can get worn down by the pace. Vince Lombardi’s great quote fits here…”fatigue makes cowards of us all”. This fall the NFL Network ran “Jimmy Johnson: A Football Life”. Jimmy gave a brilliant speech which ties right into this subject.
One of the reasons Chip Kelly’s teams looked so fast is that they wore down the competition. His teams were taught to attack all game long. They were in great shape. I can’t stress this enough, but they were in great shape physically and mentally. The players were prepared the whole offseason and training camp to play the attacking style. They understood how to attack. Just going quickly means nothing. You have to attack quickly, but also successfully. Players must know exactly what to do and how to handle the pace. You don’t want a frenzy. You want controlled chaos.
Kelly has a lot of work to do in trying to teach the Eagles this style of play. Andy Reid laid a foundation for it with his pass happy attack and occasional use of the no-huddle. The big difference is that the Eagles weren’t a fast offense under Reid. There were speedy players, but the system itself wasn’t fast. Even the no-huddle wasn’t exactly an attacking style of offense. Kelly has to teach the players to move with purpose at all times. There will be some awkward mistakes as he teaches this, but that’s okay. You don’t install a new style of play and expect things to be perfect.
The up-tempo style can work in the NFL. The Patriots had a great season while running a fast offense. They ran more plays than anyone in the league. They also got more 1st downs, gained more yards, and scored more points. Having Tom Brady is the key to that, but the system was a big help. The Pats 557 points are one of the highest totals in NFL history.
The Buffalo Bills ran a no-huddle attack during their Super Bowl run from 1990-93. They varied the speed. Sometimes they moved quickly. Other times they slowed down, generally when trying to protect a lead. People think of those Bills teams and remember Jim Kelly and the high octane passing attack, but they were Top 10 in rushing attempts and yards each of those 4 seasons. Kelly got the team to the LOS quickly, but they still ran the ball. It was a balanced offense and featured 2 RBs, Thurman Thomas and Kenneth Davis.
You need the right players to make the up-tempo style of play work, but it sure helps to have a great teacher. Kelly took solid college talent and turned those players into overachievers. Guys that had good speed and solid athletic ability were the key pieces on a devastating offense. Now Kelly gets his hands on Shady McCoy, Bryce Brown, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek. He’s got some really good weapons to work with. Kelly must find the right QB to make the system work, but also needs the players to buy into his ideas.
The Eagles offense will only function as Kelly wants if the players learn how to think fast, practice fast, and of course…play fast. Attack is the word of the day. That word doesn’t just mean attack the defense on Sunday. It is part of a mindset that Kelly has brought to town. You attack the playbook, weight lifting, conditioning, rehab, mini-camps, Training Camp, and everything in between. Then you’ll be ready when it is time to attack on the field.
Prepare fast. Practice fast. Play fast.
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I wrote up some draft notes. Thoughts on a variety of players.