The Eagles have a QB competition. And a backup RB competition. And all kinds of DB competition. Heck, when you’re coming off a 4-12 season and you have new coaches and schemes, not many people are safe.
Let’s talk about these competitions. We update when one player seems to have taken the lead. I think some people mis-read the updates and think that a player has won, or that the job is his to lose. That is not the case after one preseason game. You have to think of this as a marathon. Leading at the one-mile marker or the 10-mile marker or even the 20-mile marker doesn’t mean you’ve won. It simply means that player has performed better to that specific point.
The coaches will settle on a depth chart either before or after the third preseason game. They’ll definitely tweak the chart after the game. That will be the template they head into the season with. Even then, the depth chart is never really settled. Top shelf players like LeSean McCoy and Jason Peters are set in stone. A bad week means nothing to them. It would take several bad weeks for the coaches to really pay attention.
Established starters can get away with a bad game here or there, but have a couple in a row and suddenly that player will be challenged in practice, with some backup starting to eat into his reps. That is a hint to improve or else. If a young player is just lights out in practice, the starter may lose some reps even if he’s done nothing wrong.
Coaches want the best players on the field. They believe that competition will keep players on edge, as they battle for playing time. Starters can’t relax, for fear of losing their job. Backups don’t get discouraged, since they know they can win the job back if they practice well enough and find ways to shine during games (generally on STs).
I think the practice angle is one that a lot of fans underestimate. Coaches love practice. They love players who show up every day and practice hard and do a good job. Not all players are wired like that. Coaches crave consistency. Players who show up on Sunday, but don’t practice well drive coaches crazy. Their sloppy practice performances hurt the players around them. One way for players to improve is to be pushed hard in practice by the guys they go up against.
Greatness is a combination of talent, consistency and competitiveness. Great players want to win every snap, every practice rep or whatever setting their in. Far too often, players settle for good enough. That’s part of human nature.
I went to high school with a kid named John. He was a very talented RB, but not focused in the least. He was busy having a good time being a high school kid. In the week leading up to his final game, he and I were in the locker room talking. John told me he needed to score 4 TDs to set the school record. We were 1-8 at that point and the offense sucked. The starting QB got hurt prior to the season and we struggled to move the ball. Sure enough, John went out and scored 4 TDs in his final game. He got the school record.
That’s kind of a cool story, but also a sad one. John had the potential to play college football, but didn’t come close to that. He had the talent, but not the focus or drive that it takes to be a good football player. I’m sure the coaches hated John because he was such a tease.
There was another kid named Sean Mitchell. He didn’t have anything special in terms of talent, but Sean was a special guy. He started on the OL and DL. He was about 6-0, 220. He worked his ass off every single day. He battled guys that were as much as 75 pounds heavier, but Sean won a lot of battles. He got the most out of his talent. Sean was also a leader and a great student. I had tremendous respect for him. I’m sure the coaches loved Sean. He was good on the field, at practice, in the locker room and in the classroom.
Back in the early 90′s I did some broadcasting for a high school basketball team. One day the coach comes up to me and talks about a kid who is coming back to the team from some kind of suspension. The kid was a shooting guard. He was 5-11, 185 or something like that. Looked like an average player. The coach told me to watch him carefully during practice. My jaw hit the floor as I saw him drain 25-foot jumpers and then go dunk with ease. The coach explained that the kid was supremely gifted, but a major knucklehead and couldn’t be counted on. Another guy who was a huge tease and drove the coaches crazy.
Think about Bryce Brown. He left Tennessee after a year. He washed out at Kansas State. He flashed great talent last year, but has been highly inconsistent this spring and summer. I think the coaches got real worried about how he handled the success of 2012. Brown was good last year, but that showing didn’t earn him job security. His track record screams “Don’t trust me.”
Chris Polk came into the offseason as a man on a mission. He was in top shape. He went all-out every day and has had a great Training Camp. Polk was rewarded with the starting job last week with Shady out. There is no question that Brown is more gifted. The coaches sent a message to Brown that big potential isn’t enough. You must perform well in practice and games. Last year is irrelevant. This is 2013. Show us how good you can be.
Brown got the message and played well in the game. The challenge for him now is to practice well. If he does that, Brown will be the backup tailback and could have a big season. He is a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense. He just needs to show up 7 days a week, not just on gameday.
Competition has brought out the best in the QBs so far. It has worked well for the RBs. We need to see more of the DBs, but signs there aren’t nearly as encouraging.
I think Chip Kelly has done a good job with competition so far. It does become tricky at some point because players will need to settle into roles. Kelly has made comments acknowledging this so I think he’ll dial things down in the next 10 days. College coaches can preach competition to an extreme level since players are only there for 4 years and there are no veteran stars or salary cap issues to deal with. It seems that Kelly understands this, but if he does push players too much that can be awkward. Chip has veteran NFL coordinators and I’m sure he’ll lean on them for advice when it comes to handling players and playing time.
There is an old joke that if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it will change. That will apply to the depth chart this year. I think Les Bowen was the first person to make the point that maybe more important than who’s the QB on opening day is who will be the QB in the season finale. More than a few players will find out that getting a job and keeping a job are two very different things.
There will be competition.
There will be change.