Chip, Chip, Chip

Posted: July 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 77 Comments »

I have written about the Eagles in one form or another since 2003. That is 10 seasons of Andy Reid and one of Chip Kelly. Oddly, it feels like I have written as many stories about Kelly as I ever did about Reid. Big Red was a terrific coach, but Chip is something completely different. Is visionary too strong a word?

Kelly has impacted the game of football at the high school, college and pro levels. I’m not saying he belongs in the same breath as Paul Brown, Bill Walsh or Clark Shaughnessy. They became legends because their ideas have stood the test of time. We’re still living in the moment with Kelly and his impact on the game.

One of the things that makes Kelly unique is that he’s not just X’s and O’s. He is a big picture guy. Kelly goes beyond scheme and talent. You can win titles at USC and Texas by recruiting great players and then keeping them organized and motivated. That might be oversimplifying things a bit, but the point is that talent is the key at schools like that. Bill Snyder built Kansas State into a power by getting some talented players to come there, but also by getting other players to overachieve. Kelly did a similar thing at Oregon. He had good talent to work with, but far more 3-star recruits than 5-star recruits. Kelly coached up his players so that they could compete with and beat teams that were loaded with the 5-star players.

A slew of articles came out on Sunday about Kelly and some of his ideas about how to coach players and develop a team. First up, Jeff McLane.

As much as Chip Kelly requires his players to run on the practice fields behind the NovaCare Complex, the Eagles coach demands they keep off the front lawn.

The grass that greets visitors to the team’s practice facility – finely manicured every Monday – is lined with walkways. But the shortest path between the Eagles’ indoor bubble and the nearest entrance to the locker room is not.

When Andy Reid was coach, the players simply went from A to B, trudging atop the lawn in the interest of time. Kelly may do nearly everything at supersonic speed, but he doesn’t believe in cutting corners.

So when the leftovers from the Reid regime did what they had always done – and, frankly, some of the new players took the shortcut as well – Kelly would bark his order to stay off the grass.

It took some repeating in his first year, but now the Eagles march in order along the pathways. Kelly’s rule might be the most minor of changes he made in Year 1, but sometimes the smallest detail can paint the entire picture.

“It goes back to, he cares about the whole thing,” Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. “I love it because [you should] show respect, walk on the sidewalks. Don’t walk all over the grass.

“You would never think a head football coach wastes his time spending that moment to discipline. But he does.”

Kelly’s schemes may have received the bulk of credit for the Eagles’ turnaround in 2013, but greater attention should be focused on an ongoing culture shift that starts with – simplistic as it sounds – finding good people who do the right things.

I’m sure more than a few people will find this completely ridiculous. Who cares if players walk on the sidewalk or the grass? Kelly does. Walking on grass isn’t going to win/lose games, but finding players who will buy in to the coach’s ideas absolutely makes a difference. Get enough players to do the right thing and to pay attention to simple details and you can build the right kind of team.

Kelly’s keep-off-the-grass rule dates back to Oregon. The “why,” according to Eagles rookie and former Ducks receiver Josh Huff, is “don’t take any shortcuts in life, and always do the right thing even though the wrong thing might get you to the door quicker.”

“What you try to get across to guys is you have to think about things,” said Eagles defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, who also worked with Kelly at Oregon. “Maybe you’re not going to think about it as deeply and say somebody mowed that lawn, somebody spent hours preparing that thing, but I think as you’re around really good people, good people don’t do that.

“They clean up after themselves. They just try to do the right thing as much as they can. And no one needs to be looking. You just try to do the right thing.”

There is a great scene in “The Paper” where Marisa Tomei confronts Michael Keaton about what kind of a husband/father he is. She asks him if he would run into a burning building for his family. He answers that of course he would. She then points out that life doesn’t present tests like that. You prove what kind of a person you are by all the little tests you face. Like not walking on the grass.

The players seem to get this.

“He is a demanding coach,” center Jason Kelce said. “He’s likable from the player’s perspective, but at the same time, you know what’s expected of you. If you don’t do what’s expected of you, then you’re going to be on your way out. He’s made it very clear that he’s not going to tolerate certain things.”

And

Uniforms should be worn uniformly to reflect a team-as-one mentality. So when a player wears black socks rather than the white ones the rest of the team wears, it suggests to Kelly that player wishes to stand apart.

“I just think it has to do with the entire culture,” Kelce said. “Everyone is expected to buy in and follow the team’s culture and expectations. I really don’t think he cares at all about what color socks guys are wearing. He probably just wants us to be in uniform and look like a team.”

Be a team. Be 53 players working in the same direction, with the same goal.

“The more people get along and share the same vision and aspirations, the more you’re going to get to where you want to get to,” Kelly said. “If you have people who have different agendas in terms of what they’re trying to get accomplished, that’s not going to help the cause.”

Great piece by McLane. Go read the whole thing.

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Sheil Kapadia also wrote about Kelly and some of his ideas.

With Year 2 on the horizon, Kelly met with a roomful of reporters at the end of June’s’ minicamp and expanded on many of his philosophies. One topic that came up was his presence, which is felt throughout the NovaCare Complex. While some coaches believe in allowing the locker room to be a players-only sanctuary, Kelly prefers a different approach.

“I’ve never agreed with that,” he said. “We’re all Philadelphia Eagles, so there’s no place that’s [sacred or] not sacred or you’re not allowed to go. And I think sometimes in certain times, that’s where problems occur in the locker room, because coaches aren’t in the locker room enough. I think you shouldn’t have to worry about, ‘Well the coaches are here, we have to act any differently in the locker room.’ They should be able to behave the way we were all taught to behave: to be a good person, to be a good teammate, to be a good neighbor. That’s just part of the deal. Just like if I had my way – there’s obviously I think fire codes to it – there should be no doors on anything because you shouldn’t have to worry about what’s going on behind closed doors if you’re doing things the right way.”

Asked about whether he’s made any changes in the aftermath of the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin situation in Miami, Kelly added: “No. We did that before. We were always in the locker room as coaches since I got here. As I said earlier, I don’’t believe you need to have any doors on anything. We eliminated the door in the back room [from the locker room to the lounge]. There should be no closed doors in terms of how you do it. We’’re just continuing to emphasize what we emphasized a year ago. We don’’t have any rookie shows, never have done that stuff. We just try to be a good person. That’’s what we’re trying to get, a bunch of guys who are good people.”

A lot of teams break down into cliques. The defense hangs out together. The offense too. Within those groups, positions become a sub-group. Sometimes this leads to good-natured fun. Maybe the OL pick on the WRs for dropping passes. But this kind of fragmenting can be problematic when things go bad. Suddenly the blame game begins and the laughing stops. Buddy Ryan loved his defensive players and treated them better than their offensive counterparts. As much as I love Buddy, that was just plain dumb. You don’t build a team like that.

Kelly rearranged the locker room upon arrival in Philly. He didn’t want a bunch of cliques. He wanted players to mix with other positions and groups. Kelly wanted a team. This also extended to rookies. Kelly didn’t want any hazing. He mentioned in the quote not even doing rookie shows. This is when rookies get up and perform skits or entertaining acts for the whole team. They often make fun of veteran players and coaches. It may seem harmless, but still makes the rookies feel very different.

Kelly wants one group.

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Ed Kracz wrote about Kelly and the military.

Kelly isn’t just drawing ideas from the sports world far and wide, but from the military, too. Particularly the Navy SEALS.

He mentioned that one of his three brothers served in the military, about visiting troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Bahrain on a sort of USO type of trip.

“I had a chance to sit with a guy in the military when I was coming back from a recruiting trip (while at Oregon), and he was actually going to see a young man who had lost his life in Afghanistan,” Kelly said. “He was going to the funeral that I had actually gotten invited to but had said I couldn’t go because I was going to be away recruiting. And then I went to the funeral, so I kind of changed our plans to make sure I could go to it. And it just kind of hit home.

“I think sometimes we all get wrapped up in our own individual lives and kind of forget what’s going on because it happens away from you. Obviously everybody was kind of in tune to it during 9/11, but when it doesn’t happen in your own backyard, you kind of forget what’s going on in the foreign countries.”

What he has drawn from spending time with the military, as well as watching them train at Coronado and in Virginia, has more to do with the mental side of the game of football than the physical or conditioning side. And he incorporates that into the way he coaches the Eagles.

“A lot of mental toughness you learn from them, and how they foster that,” he said. “A lot of leadership qualities that they look for. A lot of cooperation within the group. How does the group react in certain situations? Are they always looking for one guy to lead them or are there multiple guys at certain times? When that situation is presented to them, how do they do it?

“You’d be amazed at how many times they train certain individual things before they go off and perform them. They’re pretty meticulous in how they do it. I think how they debrief after missions is an intriguing aspect of what they did right, what they did wrong and how do they improve that the next time they go out?”

I love the fact that Kelly focuses on the mental toughness of the military people/units that he studies. To me, that’s where they are special. Obviously you need to be in good physical shape to be a soldier, but there are plenty of civilians in great shape as well. The military is special when it comes to building/teaching mental and emotional toughness. That is something that can definitely carry over to football.

You need players who can stay focused, even when things are not going well. You need players who are disciplined and will train the right way to be prepared for tough situations. You need players who are confident and fearless, but who also will listen to orders and can function as a unit.

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Bob Grotz wrote about Kelly and not being satisfied with the success of 2013.

The biggest difference from last year is attitude. Kelly, at this early juncture, has his players believing they have each other’s backs. There are plenty of players to do the dirty work in this quest to leap from just OK to great.

“You’ve got to make sure that they’re not content being where they are,” Kelly said. “I think if you’re content with 10 wins and winning the division you’re probably shortchanging yourself and the team. We did that. What’s the next step? How can we improve upon that? We’re trying to get a bunch of guys that are never complacent in terms of, ‘All right, we’ve arrived.’ We haven’t arrived. We’re looking to work and strive to get better and better and better. That’s part of the deal. So I think that’s the thing we’re always trying to emphasize with these guys.”

I think one of the things that hurt the Skins was the way they celebrated after winning the division in 2012. They didn’t have a parade, but did just about everything else. Kelly is keeping his players hungry for more. Be proud of the success…for 24 hours. Then move on to the next thing.

Kelly didn’t come here for division titles. He wants to build a great team and win a championship. Last year was a step in the right direction, but nothing more.

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I wonder if non-Eagles fans hate the attention that Chip gets. Chip Kelly this, Chip Kelly that.

I love it. Talking about coaches is one of my favorite parts of football.

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NFC East Day

Posted: July 20th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 34 Comments »

The NFC East is the best division of the Super Bowl era. The East has won 12 Super Bowls. No other division comes close. There are another 8 SB losses by NFC East teams. That makes 20 appearances in 48 Super Bowls. There have been amazing players and coaches. The rivalries are among the best in sports. The NFC East has been a great division.

But 2014 isn’t looking so good.

I wrote a piece on the NFC East for PE.com.

In studying the other 3 teams, it is hard to see them as very good. I know I can be biased toward the Eagles so I tried to be thorough as I took a look at their other rosters and overall situations. We see surprise teams every year in the NFL. You never want to casually dismiss a team without looking at everything.

I just don’t see the Giants, Skins or Boys as likely playoff teams, barring something major happening.

The Giants have a new offensive coordinator and new offense. That could help, but the O-line still has issues and the front seven might be a major mess.

The Skins have a new head coach and that can be a good or bad thing depending on how he works out. They were just 3-13 a year ago, but really fell apart, losing their final 8 games.

The Boys are the kings of 8-8, having finished with that record for 3 straight years. The defense will now be run by Rod Marinelli, but a coaching change won’t make up for a lack of talent across the board.

No one is saying the Eagles are perfect, but they sure seem to be the dog with the least amount of fleas.

Let’s talk about some rankings.

COACH

1 – Tom Coughlin
2 – Chip Kelly
3 – Jason Garrett
4 – Jay Gruden

OFFENSE

1 – Eagles
2 – Boys
3 – Skins
4 – Giants

DEFENSE

1 – Giants
2 – Eagles
3 – Skins
4 – Boys

Right now I would project the division to go like this:

1 – Eagles
2 – Giants
3 – Boys
4 – Skins

That said, the Skins are the team that makes me the most nervous. RGIII has great potential and they do have some good pieces on offense. The defense has Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. That should be the foundation for an effective 3-4 defense.

* * * * *

Jimmy Bama has been having some fun with NFC East teams on Twitter.

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When Left is Right

Posted: July 19th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 34 Comments »

It is about impossible to truly appreciate offensive linemen as much as they deserve it. Those guys battle on every snap and their bodies take a real pounding. Shady McCoy can duck out of bounds. Nick Foles can slide. 2012 Jeremy Maclin can try to dig a hole to hide from DBs (but certainly not 2014 Mac…he’s a tough guy). OL pound defenders on every play. There is no hiding. Hit or be hit. Heck, hit and get hit anyway.

So let’s take a couple of minutes to enjoy the power, athleticism and dare I say…beauty…of Jason Peters and Evan Mathis in action. Has the left side of the Eagles O-line ever been better?

The video is courtesy of Larry Mitros. Give him a follow on Twitter if you like.

And if you don’t already…make sure to follow me as well.

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The Foundation: Inside Zone

Posted: July 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 17 Comments »

Football season is getting closer. We’ve spent a ton of time this offseason talking about the Eagles players and what they can/can’t do. It is always good to mix in some X’s and O’s and remember just what the Eagles offense is all about.

Sheil Kapadia wrote a great post on the inside zone and what it means to the Eagles offense. It is really amazing how good Sheil has become at taking Kelly’s football concepts and breaking them down into simple terms so that everyone can understand them.

When Kelly made the jump to the NFL last year, the inside zone served as the foundation for an offense that set franchise records in yards and points. So there’s a good reason why Stoutland yells the same number for the same call over and over again during practice. The pre-snap communication has to be mastered. The footwork has to be flawless. The combination blocks have to be executed. And the second-level linebackers have to be driven down the field with authority.

“It’s something we work on every day,” said offensive tackle Lane Johnson. “It’s always gonna be our bread and butter.”

Johnson estimated that 40 to 45 percent of practice time for the offensive linemen is rooted in perfecting principles associated with the inside zone. Kelce doesn’t think that’s an exaggeration.

“I would say yeah, we really spend a lot of time on our double-team blocking with our offensive line coach and trying to make sure that our offensive line is working together,” he said. “That’s not really exclusive to that play in particular. We do that on a lot of different plays. But that play, especially against a four-down defense, there’s a lot of the double teams that come around and everything. It’d be hard to put a number on it. But we definitely spend a lot of time on it.”

Kelly despises labels. Last year he joked that the Eagles ran the “see-coast offense.” If they were to see something they liked that could help them score points, they would run it.

And to a large degree, that was true. It was one of Kelly’s biggest strengths in 2013: figuring out what the defense was trying to do and attacking its weaknesses. Some games that meant running more sweeps. Other weeks, the screen game was prolific. And throughout the entire first season, the Eagles did damage downfield, leading the NFL in pass plays of 20+ yards.

But Kelly also believes in having an identity on offense, in addition to the different tools.

“If you give your players something to hang their hats on, they will perform,” he said during a Nike Coaches Clinic in 2009. “If they can run the offense with any scenario they may face, you will be successful in running the ball. If they have all the answers to the problems the defense may give them, they will be good.”

Given that philosophy, it’s no wonder that his offense spends so much time on the inside zone.

“What’s special about the inside zone is that it can hit anywhere,” Mathis said. “It’s not necessarily designed to hit in any certain gap. If it’s wide open left tackle to right tackle, it can hit there. The blocking for it is more of a downhill, smash-mouth type blocking and getting on your guys quickly.

“We do it a lot so we get pretty good at it. At first, it took awhile. There’s a few of those blocks on the inside zone that took awhile to get comfortable doing. But over the course of the season, the more repetitions we got, the more we saw it on film, the more we learned the intricacies of the play. Our experience really came to help us.”

That is just part of the post, but gives you an idea of how good it is. Make sure to go read the whole piece.

The funny thing about Chip Kelly is that for all of his innovation (smoothies, music at practice, Sports Science, etc.), he really is an old school coach in a lot of ways. Kelly believes in the run game. He believes in running the ball to the inside. He stresses blocking more than any Eagles coach in decades. Whether you are a O-lineman, TE or WR, you will block in the run game or you will be replaced.

Kelly isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel. He is simply taking the wheel and presenting it in different ways to make it look different.

One of the reasons I don’t think people are going to shut down the Eagles offense in Year 2 is that Kelly isn’t running some gimmick attack. If you have a talented RB and good OL, you should be able to run the ball. You can do it from the I-formation, from a 2-TE set, a 3-WR set or however you like. Blockers block and the runner runs.

There is no “secret” for defenses to figure out so they can magically solve the Eagles offense. Certainly they can study it and look for trends or potential tips, but the offense is based on fundamentals and execution.

Defenses will have a better feel for the Eagles offense this year, but so will the Eagles. With better, more consistent execution, the offense could be even better in 2014.

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PFT Ranks the Eagles

Posted: July 17th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 63 Comments »

Pro Football Talk is doing a countdown of how they’ve ranked the 32 NFL teams. The Eagles rank 13th overall. Here are their comments:

There were some blips along the way, but there weren’t many questions about whether Chip Kelly could devise a winning NFL offense by the end of his first season as the Eagles’ head coach.

Philadelphia went 10-6, took the NFC East title with a Week 17 victory over the Cowboys and scored the fourth-most points in the league behind Nick Foles‘ 27 touchdowns and two interceptions. Even with DeSean Jackson in Washington, there’s every reason to think that the offense should be just as good in 2014 if not better thanks to a year’s experience in the system.

That makes the Eagles a good bet to contend for another division title and our panel ranks them No. 13, which is higher than any of the other NFC East teams. To vault even higher, the Eagles will need to make strides on defense and our voters appear to need some convincing that those strides will take place this season.

This all seems pretty reasonable to me. I love ripping on PFT when they say dumb things, but I don’t have a problem with someone picking the Eagles as the 13th best NFL team.

You can certainly make a case that the Eagles will be better than that. There are only a handful of teams I think are definitely better. There are several teams where you can argue for both sides.

PFT also did a preview of the Eagles that seems reasonable. Here’s the overall conclusion.

The Eagles won the division last year and there isn’t a team that’s clearly better than them heading into this season, so a repeat should be their goal.

Barring injuries, the biggest reason to think that the Eagles may take a step back is that Foles is unlikely to throw 27 touchdowns against two interceptions again this season. More turnovers would put more pressure on a defense that’s still finding its way and that could lead to worse results this time around.

Given how strong the offense looks, though, Foles would have to pick up some of Sanchez’s habits from the Jets to keep the Eagles from competing in the NFC East even if the defense doesn’t make any major strides this season.

I don’t get too caught up in power polls and rankings. They’re fun, but don’t mean much. Getting to the playoffs and winning in the postseason is far more important than rankings in July. Or even October.

Teams I see as clearly better than the Eagles:

Seahawks
Niners
Broncos

That’s it.

You can certainly argue about:

Saints
Panthers
Packers
Patriots
Bengals
Colts
Chiefs
Cardinals
Bears
Lions

I probably lean toward the Eagles being in the Top 10, but then again I’m probably a bit biased.

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