The 2008 Eagles defense finished Top 5 in almost every major category. That group was largely homegrown.
DL; Juqua Thomas, Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley, Trent Cole
LB: Chris Gocong, Stewart Bradley, Akeem Jordan
S: Brian Dawkins, Quintin Mikell
CB; Sheldon Brown, Asante Samuel
Things looked pretty good. Until the 2009 offseason. That’s when Jim Johnson died of cancer and was replaced by Sean McDermott.
While McDermott had been mentored by Johnson, Sean had his own ideas that he wanted to incorporate. In his mind, he was taking something good and making it better. In retrospect, he was taking something good and changing it when it really wasn’t needed.
One of the big problems is that McDermott wasn’t as good of a teacher. Not only did he switch from some of JJ’s ideas, but McDermott failed to do a good job with teaching them. Think about the young players under McDermott and how they either flatlined or flat out regressed in 2009.
S Quintin Demps – played as a rookie in 2008 and showed promise, but lost his job in 2009
LB Akeem Jordan – played very well down the stretch in 2008, but struggled in 2009
LB Chris Gocong – looked like good young SAM in 2008 and was being phased out in 2009
MLB Joe Mays – got a chance to play in 2009 and looked awful
DT Brodrick Bunkley – played very well for parts of 2008, but regressed in 2009
DE Chris Clemons – showed flashes in 2008, but failed to build on them
S Macho Harris – rookie who played a lot in 2009, but failed to develop
Victor Abiamiri and Stewart Bradley were hurt and struggled solely for those reasons.
McDermott wasn’t dealing with ideal circumstance since he took over in the spring/summer, but that is still a lot of players showing no growth or heading the wrong way. I think McDermott made things overly difficult by trying to make changes. That was his first chance to run a defense and he was excited to implement his own ideas. I get that. But…part of being a smart coach is knowing when to leave things as is. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The defense wasn’t terrible (19th in Pts, 12th in Yds), but took a huge step back from 2008. McDermott was hurt by the loss of Brian Dawkins and Bradley, but Sean’s failure to find or develop replacements is on him. McDermott didn’t have to replace them with stars. He failed to have even adequate players to fill those jobs.
The 2010 defense posted similar numbers, but McDermott did a much better job with young players (Brandon Graham, Nate Allen, Keenan Clayton, Kurt Coleman, Jamar Chaney). Unfortunately the Red Zone defense was historically bad and the overall defense regressed as the season went along so Andy Reid decided to make a change.
The 2008 defense was built around being physical. McDermott wanted more speed and coverage ability. Both groups asked the DTs to play a 2-gap style that ate up blockers and kept pressure off the back seven in the run game.
2011 saw the arrival of Juan Castillo, Jim Washburn and the Wide-9. This meant a 1-gap system where players would attack up the field and the DBs would need to be more active vs the run. Some players loved the change, but plenty of others struggled in the new system. The lockout put the coaches in a tough situation and we hoped 2012 would bring different results. Oops.
The defense was erratic and that led to Castillo’s firing at the bye week. The defense fell apart after that and played awful as Todd Bowles tried to make some changes to the secondary and how they played. Eventually Washburn was fired and the Wide-9 was scrapped.
I haven’t even gotten into all of the assistant coaches who the Eagles have had in recent years. I think the list would be longer than the number of drummers in Spinal Tap. This may not seem critical, but it is a big deal. Each coach teaches a bit differently. Players go from learning one way to another to another. That absolutely affects their performance. It takes time to perfect a way of doing things. When you have multiple teachers, you’re constantly learning and never perfecting.
And now Chip Kelly comes in with a new scheme and new staff. The only thing I ask is that Kelly give it 3 full years. Give the coaches time to develop the players and adjust the system. Give the players a chance to figure things out. Give the personnel staff time to find players for the system. Give it a real chance.
All the changes from 2008-2012 made it impossible for the organization to have a truly good defense. Buddy Ryan got here in 1986. He ran the defense until he was fired and Bud Carson took over in 1991. Carson tinkered with the scheme, but left it mostly the same. That allowed the 1991 Eagles to be one of the all-time great units. Ray Rhodes took over in 1995 and put in a more conservative system, but one that allowed holdover players like Andy Harmon, William Fuller, William Thomas, Bill Romanowski and Mike Zordich to still play at a high level. Jim Johnson took over in 1999 and his system brought out the best in holdovers like Hugh Douglas, Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, and of course Brian Dawkins.
From 1986-2008 the Eagles had one of the best defenses in the NFL. Heck, they might have the most overall sacks in that period. They ran an attacking 4-3 that punished QBs and made lots of big plays. There were systematic adjustments when the coaches changed, but the changes always seemed to make sense and bring out the best in the existing players. Since then, chaos has reigned.
One reason I do have a bit of optimism is that the new coaches are veterans. McDermott was a first time DC. Castillo was new to defense in the NFL. Bowles was a first time DC and mid-season change. Bill Davis takes over now with a long NFL history and 4 years of DC experience. His numbers aren’t good, but he does know how things work and what the NFL is like. Jerry Azzinaro is a long time DL coach. Rick Minter is new to the NFL, but has been a head coach, DC, and LBs coach in college. Bill McGovern is new to the NFL, but has been a DC and LBs coach in college. John Lovett has a year of NFL experience, but is mostly a college guy. He’ll be working with Toddy Lyght, a former NFL player.
Some of you may wonder if the defensive coaches lack of NFL experience is a major issue. No. Jimmy Johnson’s great staff in Dallas had little to no NFL experience. The Steel Curtain was run by Bud Carson, who came there from Georgia Tech. The 1992 Steelers hired our own Bill Davis and Marvin Lewis straight from college. The 1999 Ravens, run by Marvin Lewis, hired Mike Smith, Rex Ryan, and Donnie Henderson straight out of college. Ryan had a bit of NFL experience working under Buddy in the mid-90′s. You need to hire the right guys. Experience is nice, but not a must.
The coaches may not be NFL experts, but they know defense and they know how to teach. Another important aspect of the staff is that they have some ties to each other. That should help them get along and lead to a more cohesive staff. There will be none of Washburn’s “Juanita” crap this year. It will be easier for the players to respect and follow the staff if they see a group of coaches that works well together and gets along.
Stability. Who in the world ever thought that would be something a defense needed?
On its own, this isn’t a big deal. But as Jimmy Bama pointed out on Twitter, this now means the Eagles OL is 4 injured guys and a rookie. That sounds depressing. The good news is that Jason Peters seems to be all the way back from his injury. Todd Herremans was a full participant in the pre-draft camp and seems to be okay. Mathis participated in the pre-draft camp so his ankle was functional. Jason Kelce is actually the biggest question mark at this point.
Mathis absence will provide a great opportunity for Danny Watkins. There was a bizarre post on Philly.com this weekend that questioned whether Watkins would get cut and go to the CFL. It was pure speculation, but way off base even for that. Watkins hasn’t turned into the high quality starter the Eagles hoped for, but he’s far getting cut. Chip Kelly and Jeff Stoutland will want to see him up close this summer. Watkins wouldn’t be cut before September. And if he is let go, I tend to think some other NFL team would claim him and see if they couldn’t turn his career around. Watkins had a very good career at Baylor and showed serious potential in 2011.
I think Watkins would have to look awful this summer to get cut. You need backup offensive linemen. Watkins has experience, size, strength, and ability. He could be a good backup.
I’m not ready to give up on Watkins turning into a quality starter. He had 2 huge issues in the past. First, he didn’t take well to Howard Mudd’s coaching style. That brought out the worst in Watkins. Second, Danny is a much, much better run blocker than pass blocker. So naturally he didn’t thrive when pass blocking 40 times a game. If Kelly does run the ball as much as we expect, that will allow Danny to do something he’s good at and should help build up his confidence.
Danny has plenty of skeptics and he might end up failing, but we’ve seen plenty of times over the years when a coaching change completely turned a player’s career around. Look at what Pete Carroll did for Red Bryant. Red went from role player to impact run defender. Ask Alex Smith if Jim Harbaugh was good for him. Smith became a good starter and winning QB for the first time in his career. Go back in Eagles history and Jermane Mayberry went from underachieving former 1st rounder under Ray Rhodes to very good RG under Andy Reid.
We really don’t know who the backup OL will be this year. It looks like Dennis Kelly will be the primary backup OT and Dallas Reynolds the backup C. Nate Menkin and Julian Vandervelde could be backups at OG. UDFA Matt Austin is more of a longshot, but will get his chance. There are other guys in the mix and as Kelly likes to say, he’ll give jobs to the players who play the best. There will be no favorites. Any of these guys can win a job or roster spot.
I know it may seem cheesy, but I really like the fact that all the players have a clean slate with Kelly. The fun part will be seeing who takes advantage of it.
Bill O’Brien took over as head coach at Penn State early in 2012. O’Brien was challenged in a number of ways. He had to succeed Joe Paterno. He had to deal with fallout from the nightmare of the Jerry Sandusky situation. He had to keep players from leaving. And O’Brien had to fix an offense that had finished 95th in yards and 110th in scoring.
O’Brien brought a no-huddle offense from his time with the New England Patriots. He had to teach the new system to his players. He had to make his QB an expert in the system, as well as trying to hone his passing skills. O’Brien was working with former walk-on Matt McGloin. There is a lot to admire about McGloin, but he’s not physically gifted and isn’t the most skilled passer. O’Brien faced a major challenge.
McGloin went from being a below-average QB to leading the Big Ten in passing yards and TDs. PSU went 8-4. The team finished 53rd in yards and 62nd in scoring. That may not sound great, but remember how they finished in 2011. O’Brien did a phenomenal job with McGloin and the offense. O’Brien wasn’t able to do everything he wanted and he didn’t have great personnel, but the foundation was laid. PSU adjusted to the no-huddle attack pretty well. The team finished 2nd in the conference in plays per game, a key stat for up-tempo teams.
O’Brien learned the no-huddle offense early on in his college days. He then worked on it while in New England. One of the people who helped the Patriots with their no-huddle attack was then Oregon coach Chip Kelly. O’Brien and Kelly have been friends for years, since both were small college assistants in the northeast. They don’t run the same system. Kelly’s is purely based on college football. O’Brien’s is a combination of what he learned under Ralph Friedgen in college and what he picked up while working for the Patriots. There are plenty of similarities in the two systems.
I think we can look at what Penn State did in 2012 for some idea of what Kelly might do with the Eagles.
The Oregon offense was run heavy. The Ducks ran the ball 685 times. They threw 373 passes. Think about that for a second. Oregon was 65-35 run to pass. That sounds great, but isn’t practical for the NFL. It worked there because you could build up a a big lead on teams like Arkansas State, Tennessee Tech, Fresno State, or Washington State and then just run the ball relentlessly. Offenses in the NFL must be more balanced, or err on the side of throwing.
Penn State ran the ball 475 times and threw it 456 times in 2012. That is great balance. I don’t know that Kelly will be able to even pull that off, but it is much more likely than what Oregon did.
It is also interesting to study PSU since you had O’Brien going in there with a new system. Kelly ran an established system in Oregon. I went back and studied tape of both offenses to see how well each ran the no-huddle attack. There is no question that Oregon ran it better. PSU did have some very good moments. Their NASCAR package (really fast) was effective and the team was 10 to 12 seconds from one play being over to the next snap. When just going at a normal no-huddle pace, PSU was 15 to 20 seconds from a play being over to the next snap.
We don’t yet know how much no-huddle Kelly will use in the NFL. It is expected to be a big part of the offense, but the NFL is so different than college football that I think Kelly will have to see how things work and then make adjustments. Kelly’s goal is to attack and wear down his opponents, but when the no-huddle struggles, teams can wear down Kelly’s defense. It is likely that Kelly will mix in normal pace with no-huddle and also have a super-fast tempo that he uses occasionally.
PSU’s scheme was very different from Oregon in that it involved no designed QB running. McGloin was a passer. He would scramble on occasion, but even then his first instinct was to find a receiver to get the ball to. McGloin was used on QB sneaks, but that is it. PSU’s offense really did look like an NFL offense. The primary personnel were 2 TEs, 2 WRs, and a RB. They would align in a variety of ways. The offense featured a workhorse WR, Allen Robinson, and a workhorse TE, Kyle Carter. Robinson had 77 receptions and 11 TDs. Carter had 36 receptions and 2 TDs (while missing 2 games).
The offense threw plenty of short passes so that WRs and TEs could get RAC yards. The offense would also throw down the field in order to stretch out the defense and keep the Safeties from crowding the LOS. PSU had a workhorse runner in Zach Zwinak. He is a 230-pound RB that attacks downhill. He finished the year with 1,000 yards on the nose. Bill O’Brien originally intended Bill Belton, a smaller player and former QB/WR, to be the key runner. Injuries hurt him and Zwinak seized the job.
Oregon used smaller runners in Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. They combined for 2,468 yards. The PSU run game was methodical. Oregon’s was explosive. Oregon spread the ball around in the pass game. There were 8 players with 19 or more receptions. Thomas led the way with 45 catches. There was no workhorse receiver.
PSU snd Oregon each ran a no-huddle attack. They each primarily used 2 TEs, 2 WRs, and a RB. From there, things got very different. It may seem somewhat odd we’re talking more about PSU here than Oregon, but that template feels much better suited to the NFL. O’Brien took college concepts and adapted them in a way that fits the NFL game. College football and the NFL are moving toward each other schematically more than ever, but there still are differences.
I think one of Steve Spurrier’s big mistakes was assuming that what worked so well for him in college would work for sure in the NFL. Confidence is good, hubris is bad. Look back at the offensive staff Spurrier put together for his 2002 team:
HC/OC/QB – Steve Spurrier (Florida grad)
OL/Asst OC – Kim Helton (Florida grad, experience as NFL OL coach)
RB – Hue Jackson (first NFL job)
WR – Steve Spurrier Jr (need I say more)
TE – Lawson Holland (from Florida staff)
Asst QB – Noah Brindise (Florida QB & from UF staff)
Asst OL – John Hunt (from Florida staff)
Spurrier loaded up with his buddies and headed off to the NFL to showcase his system. Chip Kelly loaded his staff with veteran coaches from all over. Some he knew, others he didn’t. He hired a strong OC in Pat Shurmur, who knows the NFL inside-out. Kelly hired a QB coach in Bill Lazor that has a good track record.
Kelly is not going to force his offense on the NFL. He will take bits and pieces, but he’s smart enough to know that just because it worked in the Pac-12 doesn’t mean it will work in pro football. Kelly will adapt. The Skins, by the way, never finished inside the Top 20 in points or yards in Spurrier’s 2 seaons there.
If you go back and study Kelly’s career, he has changed offenses a few times. One of his biggest strengths is the fact he keeps an open mind and isn’t married to one single concept or style. New Hampshire was built around RB Jerry Azumah when he was there. Then the offense was built around QB Ricky Santos. Oregon has adapted to a variety of QBs and RBs. Oregon is always among the national leaders in rushing. The passing game has been more erratic. It has been ranked as low as 98th and as high as 39th. The offense always scores points and the team wins. Kelly finds a way to make it happen.
Kelly and O’Brien stay in touch, mainly through texting these days. I don’t know that Kelly has talked to him much about what he should do in the NFL, but it would not surprise me in the least to find out that Kelly studied some of what Penn State did to get ideas on a more NFL-centric version of the no-huddle, spread attack.
There aren’t a lot of great videos of the Penn State offense to check out, but here is one. This is actually a cut-up of Illinois LB Michael Buchanan against PSU. You can see the kinds of run and pass plays that PSU used in 2012. This isn’t necessarily what Chip Kelly will do, but it is one possibility. This is the NFL version of some Kelly concepts.
One other thing to consider is that McGloin ran this offense. Both Nick Foles and Matt Barkley could run this offense. If Michael Vick is the QB, there will be some QB running, but if Foles or Barkley win the job, this is what we might be watching.
One of the problems with talking about Michael Vick is that he is an incredibly polarizing player. His supporters will tell you that with better coaches around him and a better defense, Vick would have been a star QB in the last couple of years. His critics think he’s been exposed as an injury-prone turnover machine.
As is generally the case, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
The first thing we have to get out there is that Vick the elite franchise QB is gone. That player does not exist anymore. Vick was benched last year for rookie Nick Foles. Vick is competing with Foles and rookie Matt Barkley this year. If Vick was still the special player from the past, he would not be competing with these guys. This isn’t a criticism of Vick. Age catches up to 99 percent of players. Guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are freaks. Just look at Philip Rivers and how quickly he’s fallen from elite QB to inconsistent QB.
I do think Vick can be a solid starter. The problem, as I mentioned yesterday, is that you don’t know if you can trust him. I don’t mean this in terms of character. Strictly football. Can Vick stay healthy? Can Vick have consecutive good years?
Vick has only played 16 games once in his career. He is tough as nails, but his never-say-die attitude leads to him taking some big hits. I know that Vick’s injuries the last 2 years came in the pocket, but in 2010 he got hurt on the run. And there is no way to tell what kind of an effect the hits have in terms of wearing him down and making him vulnerable to the hits that do end up injuring him.
Trying to figure out how many “good” years Vick has had is tricky. 2010 was a very good year. Beyond that, very hard to say. Vick only has 2 years when he threw for 20 or more TDs. He only has 3 years when he had a QB rating of 80 or more. You do have to factor in running when discussing Vick since that is such a big part of his career. In 2006, Vick became the only QB to rush for more than 1,000 yards. The Falcons went 7-9 and finished 25th in scoring in the NFL. The Falcons got to the NFC title game in 2004. The offense was mediocre and so was Vick’s passing. He did run for 902 yards. The Falcons had a good offense in 2002, Vick’s first year with a rating above 80. Honestly, though, you can make the argument that Vick has never had back-to-back good years in the NFL.
How does a team commit to a player that isn’t likely to play all 16 games and they can’t count on to be good from year to year?
This is why 2013 is so critical for Vick. He has a tremendous opportunity in front of him. For the first time in his career, Vick gets to play for a coach that embraces the run game, but also has a history of developing QBs and knows how to run a good passing attack.
As a Falcon, Vick didn’t develop as a passer. Part of that is on the coaches he had. They settled for Vick making big plays and fell under his spell. Athletic QBs do this to coaches, whether Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Jake Locker, or E.J. Manuel. Just as big is the fact that Vick was more concerned about living a fun life than he was trying to be a good QB.
Then came Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg. They developed Vick as a passer, but their lack of a balanced offense is very well documented. Vick learned a lot in his 3 years starting for them, but things did swing too far the other way. Vick simply isn’t meant to drop back 35 to 40 times a game.
Chip Kelly will figure out what Vick does well and stick with that as long as it works. Reid loved to talk about putting players in position to succeed, but too often didn’t take his own advice. Kelly will. He’s truly a flexible coach that will adapt his schemes and ideas to the talent he has.
Before any of this can happen, Vick has to win the job. And that isn’t a sure thing. Kelly will give the job to the player who plays the best. There is no loyalty to Vick, Foles, Barkley, or Dixon.
What about with the players? Vick has burned through some of the goodwill that he had built up over the years. This isn’t about character, just football. Fumbles, interceptions, and losses wear down everybody. There were more than a couple of guys who were happy to see Foles take the field last year. That would have been unheard of in 2010 or 2011. The Eagles only scored more than 20 points twice last year in games that Vick started and finished. Foles did that 4 times in his 6 starts. Vick just wasn’t right last year. We could see it in the preseason. I don’t know why, but even the players knew something was up.
Vick’s teammates still admire his toughness and like him personally, but they want to win and score points. If Vick doesn’t play well, the other players will gladly shift their support to Foles or even Barkley. The NFL is all about results.
I mentioned yesterday that Vick has the physical skills to play well for Kelly. Vick has a strong arm and can make every throw. He has a quick release. Vick still runs well and if he is the starter, Kelly can implement the read-option as part of the running attack. One thing you do have to understand is that no matter what, Kelly won’t be running the exact offense he did at Oregon. The NFL field isn’t divided into the wide side and the boundary side. That changes things. Oregon was a running team. They were 3rd in the nation in rushing and 72nd in passing. NFL teams are either balanced or pass more. The 2013 Eagles and the 2012 Oregon Ducks will be more cousins than twins.
Vick’s quick release may seem to be at odds with the fact he held the ball too much in 2012, but one is a physical skill and the other is a style of play. When Vick does see something, he can pull the trigger and get the ball out in a hurry. I don’t think Vick will hold the ball as much under Kelly since I expect more of a quick style of passing. That said, Vick must improve his pre-snap reads. We saw in that miserable Tuesday night loss in 2010 that Vick just didn’t make good pre-snap reads. Antoine Winfield seemed to catch him by surprise play after play. If Vick is going to get the ball out quickly in 2013, part of that is making a read at the line and having a good idea of where to go before the ball is even snapped. Vick is smart enough to do this. He is experienced enough to do this. I really don’t know why it has been such a poor part of his game.
Just how good can Vick be, if he does win the job? That’s really impossible for me to answer until I see him and the offense in action. We get too caught up in rankings anyway. We saw in 2010 that when Vick does play well, he can lead a team to a division title and the team can score lots of points. That was fool’s gold because the offense was too reliant on big plays and you just can’t count on them in the postseason. Kelly will embrace the run game more than Reid ever did so the Eagles won’t live and die with big plays in the passing game.
I think Vick can be similar to Jeff Garcia from 2006. That offense needed a strong run game. The passing attack was a mixture of efficient and explosive. Garcia was a fiery leader that the other players fed off. Vick has a stronger arm and is more mobile than Garcia, but Jeff was an expert at the WCO while Vick will be learning Kelly’s offense. Vick should have a good OL and he will have the best set of skill players he ever worked with.
If Vick can’t bounce back this year, it will likely be the end of his career. He’s got some very favorable conditions that should give him the chance to get back to playing well.
* * * * *
I know some of you think I’m anti-Vick. That simply isn’t true. I want the Eagles to score points and win games. I don’t care if the QB is Joe Montana, Gwyneth Paltrow, or Pol Pot. Find someone to win me some friggin’ games.
I mentioned yesterday that part of me doesn’t want Vick to succeed…BUT…that is only because I want stability at QB and Vick is here on a 1-year deal and he’s about to turn 33. A good season from him means good things on the field in 2013, but another set of complicated questions once the next offseason rolls around. This is nothing personal. If Vick was 28 and could be part of the long term plans, I’d be all in on him.
I’m not going to pull for Vick to struggle. That’s not the way I operate. I cheer for everyone wearing Eagles green. I’m just saying it would be more convenient for Foles or Barkley to win the starting job and play well since they’re younger and have more of a future.
This isn’t personal…just football.
No matter what happens with Vick on the field in 2013, his time in Philly has been a success because of the changes he’s made as a person. Ron Mexico is a distant memory. Vick is now a player you can fully trust off the field, and that’s an amazing transformation when you think where he was a decade ago. Kudos to him and Andy Reid for that.
We’ve talked about a lot of possibilities for the 2013 Eagles. One that we haven’t really gotten into much is this…what if Michael Vick has a good season?
I didn’t want Vick brought back. He’s been highly erratic over the last 2 seasons. I was tired of the turnovers, missed reads, and questionable decisions. I wanted a change. Didn’t happen
Back in early February the Eagles restructured his contract and brought Vick back. This move was made in part because the Eagles didn’t know what to do. Chip Kelly had only been the coach for a few weeks. He hadn’t made extensive plans for the offense he would run. The Scouting Combine hadn’t taken place so Kelly and the coaches had minimal draft knowledge and hadn’t met many players. Kelly hadn’t had a chance to talk football with Nick Foles, let alone see him on the practice field. There was a lot of uncertainty at QB and one safe move would be to bring Vick back on a lesser deal that would give the Eagles the freedom to cut him if they changed their mind. Vick got $3.5M up front so that’s a nice parting gift if the Eagles do let him go. Win-win.
When you go back and study what Kelly likes in QBs, Vick doesn’t stack up all that well. He takes too many sacks. He turns the ball over. He doesn’t make quick decisions. Plenty of people thought Vick would be a good fit for Kelly, but that was strictly due to his athleticism and the perception that he would be good with the read-option. Vick ran some option at Virginia Tech, but that was a very different offense and Vick didn’t always make great decisions. His explosiveness is what led to the long runs, not a precision option play. The Falcons mixed in the read-option in 2006. At that time, it was very new to the NFL and it was very effective. Vick became the first QB to rush for more than 1,000 yards. He averaged 8.4 yards per carry. Interestingly, he only ran for 2 TDs.
The read-option is no longer new to the NFL. Just running it won’t mean a thing. You must execute it well. When you do that, as SF showed last year vs GB, you can have an explosive running offense. That then opens up the whole playbook and really puts the defense in a bind. Tim Tebow ran some option for Denver in 2011. That offense struggled mightily. Tebow has never been great at running the option. His first instinct is to keep the ball. The best option QBs are good decision-makers first and foremost. Think about guys like Tommie Frazier and Eric Crouch at Nebraska 10 to 15 years ago. That offense was lethal because they knew when to keep it and when to pitch it. Watch Colin Kaepernick at Nevada or SF. He is an excellent decision-maker.
I have no idea what Kelly will think of Vick and the option. Kelly doesn’t just want good results. He wants things done a certain way, so that you can count on getting those results in future games. If Vick can make the read and execute the option the way Kelly wants it, that will make the Eagles offense interesting. With Va Tech and Atlanta, Vick felt the need to be the playmaker. In Kelly’s offense, he wants the QB to be a threat and occasional playmaker, but would much prefer the RB to be the primary runner.
The fascinating angle here is to see how Vick takes to Kelly’s coaching. Vick the lazy, uncoachable player is long since gone. He now works hard. He wants to be good. The problem that Vick faces now is one that plagues all veteran players…adjusting to new ideas. Donovan McNabb didn’t want to do things Mike Shanahan or Leslie Frazier’s way. He was used to Andy Reid’s style. Brett Favre was tough on the coaches of the Jets and the Vikings because he was used to doing things his way. Marty Schottenheimer had half of the Redskins team ready to quit back in 2001 because they didn’t like the way he wanted to do things.
Vick is a bit different in that his time in prison humbled him. Most star players have an enormous sense of entitlement. They’ve done things a certain way and that helped make them stars. Changing is hard. It goes against what they know and trust. Vick changed when he got to Philly. Can he now change again?
Kelly is coming from Oregon, where he had a great track record in getting QBs quickly acclimated to his offense and finding out the best way to use them. Senior Dennis Dixon was a Heisman candidate in 2007, his only season with Kelly. Sophomore Jeremiah Masoli took over the next year. He was a runner (10 TDs) as much as he was a passer (13 TDs). Kelly made that work and Oregon was 7th in the nation in yards and points. Sophomore Darron Thomas took over in 2010. He was more of a passer (30 TDs) than a runner (5 TDs) and Kelly adjusted for that. Oregon led the nation in yards and points. In 2012 it was Redshirt Freshman Marcus Mariota who took over. He threw for 32 TDs and proved to be a very capable passer. Mariota is also a gifted runner. He only ran for 5 TDs, but averaged 7 yards per carry (remember that sacks adjust that figure down). Oregon’s offense was 5th in yards and 2nd in scoring.
Kelly had 4 “new” starting QBs in his time at Oregon. They all thrived. Now he gets Vick. It is possible that Vick will take to Kelly’s coaching and turn out to be a good fit for the offense. One of the reasons that Vick held the ball in the last 3 years is that Andy Reid loved the big play. Kelly wants to run the ball and throw quick passes. That should take pressure off Vick and put him in a more favorable situation.
The flip side is that Vick is truly fighting for his job, something that hasn’t really happened to him since…junior high or elementary school. Vick got the starting job in 2010 based on a couple of games. He wasn’t in a QB competiton. Vick has always been a QB that looked erratic in practice, but games brought out the best in him. That won’t cut it this time around. A QB needs to emerge after the first couple of preseason games. That means the foundation has to be laid in May, June, and July. You can’t wait for the games. You must practice well.
The competition may bring out the best in Vick. Or the worst. Dealing with Kelly might prove to be a breath of fresh air. Or it could prove to be incredibly frustrating. We know Vick has the physical gifts to succeed in Kelly’s offense. What we’ll find out is if Vick has the QB skills and discipline to play in Kelly’s offense. Last year the most points the team scored with Vick was 24. Kelly would go nuts if his starting QB did that. Vick is going to have to fight just to get the job, but he will also be under pressure to keep it. Too many turnovers and not enough points will mean that you are hitting the bench, maybe the road.
I really am curious to see how this all plays out. Heck, this would be fascinating if it was the Arizona Cardinals and not our beloved Eagles. Chip Kelly is a really interesting coach and Michael Vick might be older, but he still has moments when your jaw just hits the floor and you say “wow”. Can Kelly bring out the best in Vick? We thought Andy Reid did in 2010, but that proved to be fool’s gold.
I have very mixed feelings in regard to Vick. Part of me would love to see him have a good year. That would mean the Eagles will be fun to watch and it would also mean winning some games. Another part of me wants Vick to struggle this summer so that one of the young guys can get the job. This isn’t personal with Vick. I just don’t know that I’ll ever fully trust him again. If he does play well in 2013, can you count on him to repeat that in 2014? I don’t want a good year. I want a good QB.
Eagles fans bought in back in 2010. Vick looked special. That made the erratic 2011 season so frustrating. But then I knew 2012 would be different. Boy, was I right…but in the wrong direction. There are lots of different things that hurt Vick in 2012, but the bottom line is that he simply didn’t play well. It isn’t like he had Charles Johnson and Darnell Autry out there with him. For whatever reason, Vick never looked right last year and that goes back to the preseason.
The biggest downside to Vick playing well would be his contract. He is here on a 1-year deal. If Vick lights it up, do you then sign him to another big deal? That would be a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.
Vick can have a good year in 2013. Heck, he can have a great year. The potential is there. It really is up to him to show what he can do. Kelly is new to the NFL and there is no guarantee he’ll win, but I think his offensive track record is so strong that you can feel confident that the Eagles will move the ball and score points. Kelly has had success with all kinds of QBs: short, tall, slow, fast, runners, passers, black, white, West coast kids, East coast kids, etc, etc, etc. Kelly will adapt his system to fit the QB and the offensive players. He will find a way to make it work. All the QB has to do is execute the offense, not turn the ball over, and play smart.
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