Looking for Mr. Right (and Tall)

Posted: July 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 116 Comments »

“Big people beat up little people.”

That might be Chip Kelly’s most famous line. Andy Reid liked some big players, but he was more interested in speed an athleticism. Kelly loves size, especially with his defensive linemen. Think about some of the guys he’s had come though Philly.

  • Clifton Geathers – 6-7, 299 – 37 3/4 arms, 11 1/8 hands
  • Joe Kruger – 6-6, 269 – 34 3/8 arms, 10-inch hands
  • Isaac Remington – 6-6, 298
  • David King – 6-5, 286
  • Daryell Walker – 6-6, 285
  • Brandon Bair – 6-6, 276, 33-inch arms, 10 3/8 hands
  • Taylor Hart – 6-6, 281, 32 3/4 arms, 10 1/8 hands
  • Alejandro Villanueva – 6-9, 277
  • Frank Mays – 6-9, 291
  • Brian Mihalik – 6-9, 302
  • Travis Raciti – 6-5, 285
  • BJ McBryde – 6-5, 304

Those are some big human beings.

Kelly isn’t being frivolous in his pursuit of big DEs. He wants them for a reason. That build helps the player be a successful 2-gap DE. Long arms are crucial to 2-gapping. Kelly likes to say that “long levers are strong levers”. When a DE extends his arms into the blocker, he keeps that guy off his body. Then the DE has to see the ball, shed the block and move in the direction of the ball. If the OL gets into the DE’s body, that changes everything.

The big frame helps the DE to keep from getting engulfed by the blocker. Jon Runyan is just going to overwhelm Brandon Graham if they go against each other (how’s that for Michigan on Michigan). If Runyan faces someone that is 6-6, 280, that is a very different battle.

You can tell by looking at the above list that finding big players that are good isn’t easy. The vast majority of high school and college teams aren’t going to use a 2-gap 3-4 scheme. Players just aren’t going to have a ton of experience with that when they get to the NFL. It takes time for them to learn how to 2-gap, let alone how to get good at it.

Think about a guy like Taylor Hart who did play in this scheme in college. He came to the Eagles at 281 pounds and struggled to handle NFL competition. Hart is now reportedly up to over 300 pounds and should be more physically ready for the NFL. This is a huge year for him. Joe Kruger was on a similar path, but didn’t show any real progress in his second season and was cut that summer. Hart is older and more mature so I tend to think he’ll pan out better than that, but whether he ever becomes a starting level player is anybody’s guess.

You can see Hart’s potential as an athletic playmaker in this video.

The key for him is to be able to effectively 2-gap and play the run consistently well.

Mihalik has the potential to be a good DE. I wrote a post on him with some gifs that show his physical ability. I think Travis Raciti has a chance to develop into at least a backup DE.

Kelly is going to keep bringing in big guys until he finds 2 or 3 that he likes. The starting DEs are set, but there is a need for backups and players to develop for the future. Hart, Mihalik and Raciti could be those guys. Maybe BJ McBryde shines in this scheme. He did flash at UConn when watching tape of him. I’m sure the Eagles would love Frank Mays to take a big step forward because of his size. He is massive.

Kelly now needs some of these young, talented players to turn that potential into reality this summer. If not, he’ll be looking at a new set of big guys next offseason.

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Always entertaining.

Needless to say, Dallas fans don’t agree. And they let Jimmy know it. Funny stuff.

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Jimmy on Chip

Posted: July 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 115 Comments »

Peter King’s site MMQB is doing a countdown of the 100 most influential people on the 2015 NFL season. Coming in at #3 on that list is none other than our beloved Chip Kelly. Here is the piece by Emily Kaplan.  There are some terrific quotes by Jimmy Johnson.

“When you have one guy making the decisions—like I was in Dallas or Miami, like Bill Belichick is in New England, and now like Chip is—you don’t have a lot of devil’s advocates. You don’t have a lot of people who work for you second-guessing you. If you have a committee involved in the decision-making, 95% of the time, you’re going to be conservative. There’s always going to be one person saying, ‘Oh, I don’t know about this,’ or, ‘Wait, let’s think about that.’ When one guy makes the decision, you take chances. That’s what Chip has done this year.

“I’m a fan of Chip Kelly. I like what he’s doing. The biggest concern I have is that even though they’ve been the healthiest team in the league the last couple years, because of his holistic approach with sports science and nutrition, he’s taking some big risks trading and obtaining players with major injuries. That’s the only concern I have.

“You don’t let media or pundits affect you, but of course you are aware of what they’re saying. It was both comical and hurtful. Even though you found it comical because you knew they had no idea what you were trying to do, nobody wants to be criticized. At times, it would almost feel personal. It had nothing to do with your decision-making, it had to do with the fact that they just didn’t like you—because you rubbed somebody wrong. Maybe you didn’t do right by one of their favorite players, which Chip has done, which I did, which Belichick has done. With Belichick, he has the credibility so people accept it. Late in my career, they began to accept it. With Chip right now, people are not accepting it. Some people are not accepting trading LeSean McCoy. Some people are not accepting cutting Evan Mathis. Until you win big, people are going to criticize you.

“Chip and I have talked a couple of times, and he’s a very private guy; so much of what we discuss should not be shared. But I did give him one piece of advice this year. He wanted to know what it’s like to be the decision maker as well as the coach. I told him this: You have an advantage in the draft because you know these players. You’ve been in a lot of their homes, you’ve watched them play closely. So the draft is when guys like you and I have the advantage. The problem I ran into in Miami (I didn’t have it in Dallas because free agency had just begun) was that during the season, I was so busy that I couldn’t stay on top of all of the things I wanted to: picking up players from the street, making some moves, especially on the bottom end of your roster. You’re so busy prepping with your current team for that week’s game that you can’t do it all by yourself. The job is overwhelming to do it 12 months of the year all by yourself. I found that out. My advice would be to have somebody—and not a group of people, just one person that you trust, that you like, that’s loyal, that’s like-minded—do those type of things. That will help because during the season itself, the job can be a little overwhelming. But in the offseason? The draft and free agency? Take advantage of your talents. You’re good at evaluating players because you did it in college just like I did in college, so that’s where you can shine. But during the season is when you’re going to need a little bit of help.

“Here’s the big question: Do you want to play it safe and be good or do you want to take a chance and be great? If you’re not afraid to fail, you can do some great things in this league. But most people are afraid to fail, so they play it safe. I always liked to take risks because I was always confident in my abilities. I think—no, I know—Chip is confident in his abilities, too.”

Chip isn’t afraid to fail. I know I’ve said that a few times and I’m sure some of you are sick of hearing it. But I can’t stress enough how important that is.

The old axiom in football is that more games are lost than are won. Avoid mistakes and you won’t lose. Joe Paterno preached this. Marty Schottenheimer was a huge advocate in the NFL. Don’t turn the ball over. Avoid penalties. Don’t be afraid to punt. You do win a lot of games if you have some talent and get your players to play it safe. But you won’t win many championships.

That isn’t to say if you suddenly take risks you are going to win. You have to keep them in your arsenal, though. And they can’t be “safe” risks. You don’t go for it on 4th/1 at the opponents 39 and think of that as a risk. If you fail, the opponent is still on his side of the field. Go for it when the other team isn’t expecting it…from your 39. That’s a risk. You make that call because you have prepared your players on how to execute the play properly and think they’ll do it. You expect the play to work, but you’re willing to deal with the circumstances if it fails.

Risk might be a personnel move or a coaching hire. It might involve who you draft or the kind of scheme you run. Kelly has taken plenty of risks since coming to Philly. More have worked than failed, but this year will be the real test with the moves that brought in Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray, Kiko Alonso, and Byron Maxwell, as well as the non-moves that led to Allen Barbre at LG, a competition at RG and Walter Thurmond playing FS.

Not all of those moves are going to work. And yet if one or two pans out better than hoped, that might help put this team over the hump.

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Chip vs the World

Posted: July 13th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 121 Comments »

Remember when “The Gus Bus” was a thing? Chip Kelly had spurned the Eagles. The team then talked to Brian Kelly, but he wasn’t ready to leave college football. Gus Bradley was the top assistant coach left on the market and the Eagles then talked to him.

The Eagles were probably going to hire Bradley, but a funny thing happened on the way to the forum (your first oddball reference of the day). Chip called the Eagles and said he wanted to talk to them again. That situation moved quickly and he was hired shortly after that.

Bradley then went to Jacksonville and became coach of the Jaguars.

I wrote my PE.com column on Chip Kelly and the other coaches of the class of 2013.

I’m glad we hired Chip. That was the ideal outcome for me. I’ve enjoyed having a different kind of head coach. Andy Reid was quirky in his own way, but he was a product of the Bill Walsh School of Thinking, from the playbook to how to handle the team. Kelly is in his own world, for better or worse.

Anybody out there wish the Eagles had actually hired Gus Bradley? Or someone else?

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Risk

Posted: July 11th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 143 Comments »

Jason Pierre-Paul looked like the most dominant defensive player in the league in 2011. He racked up 16.5 sacks, 8 TFLs, 2 FFs and even batted down 7 passes. The Giants won the Super Bowl that year and many wondered if JPP would be the new LT, striking fear into the hearts of offensive players and coaches around the league.

JPP didn’t handle success well and wasn’t nearly the same player in 2012. He still had 8 TFLs, but only 6.5 sacks. And his run defense was an issue. The Eagles ran at him repeatedly in an Sunday night win where the team piled up 191 rushing yards. TE Brent Celek was able to single-block JPP more than a few times.

Injuries hit in 2013 and JPP really fell off. He rebounded in 2014 and showed glimpses of the player he had been in the past. JPP finished with 12.5 sacks.

Now his career is very much up in the air. The Giants want him back, but no one knows how he will perform.

JJ Watt came into the NFL in 2011 and got off to a good start. He was lights out in 2012. He played well in 2013, but really took things up a notch in 2014. Watt is the best player in the NFL right now.

JPP and Watt both have a rare combination of size and athleticism. Both can take over games. There is one big difference. Watt stays focused and does everything he can to be great.

JPP got out of shape for a while. He lost his work ethic. This comes as no surprise to the NFL teams who scouted him prior to the 2010 draft. JPP had the measurables that every team coveted, but he wasn’t on all 32 draft boards because some teams thought he wasn’t dedicated to the game. Other teams thought he partied too much.

On July 4th JPP made a careless decision to play with some very powerful fireworks. Why on earth would you ever do that when you are in the prime of your NFL career? JPP had millions of dollars at stake. His coach might be fired if JPP doesn’t play well. There is a lot on the line for JPP, his teammates and his coaches in 2015. That’s all more complicated than ever due to the fireworks mishap that cost him one finger and left the rest of his hand damaged.

Chip Kelly is trying to build the Eagles with the right kind of players. He has yet to take any real chances in terms of character when it comes to draft picks and giving out huge contracts. JPP is a poster child for his thinking. As good as JPP can be, is he worth the risk? You don’t know which guy you are getting from year to year. What kind of a team are you building when the best player can’t be counted on to consistently work hard and stay focused?

DeSean Jackson posted great numbers for the Skins in 2014, but the team was still highly dysfunctional and went 4-12. Jackson has incredible talent and blows you away when he’s at his best. Unfortunately Jackson wants to be a celebrity and/or rapper as much as he wants to be a football star. His new reality show is doing nothing to change the image of Jackson as a talented, but flawed individual. Thankfully Eliot Shorr-Parks has taken the time to watch the show and share some “highlights”.

The first episode of the show starts off with a bang, as Jackson is shown producing a rap album, yelling at the police, smoking a cigar and drinking in a club.

“You know what the downfall of every great athlete is?,” Gayle Jackson, DeSean’s mother, asks during a dinner. “Alcohol, money and women.”

Right on cue, the show cuts to shots of Jackson smoking and drinking surrounded by women in a bar. In the prior scene, Jackson is seen shouting at police as they drive by outside.

“Haters!,” Jackson yells. “Bye, bye!”

Jackson is also quoted as saying the Eagles tried to “blow (him) up” and ruin his reputation by releasing him.

Then comes the second episode.

Jackson is asked by his sister, A’Dreea, about his financial situation and a recent charge on a credit card.

“What could you have spent $5,000 on in one night in the club?,” A’Dreea Jackson asks, before finding another charge for $25,000.

“Alcohol,” Jackson responds.

Jackson, in a private moment with cameras, then admits that he has perhaps lost his way since his father, Bill, passed away in 2009.

“When I have football, I’m focused. Then once the off time comes, it’s like, ‘Ok, what’s next?'” Jackson says. “When my dad was here, it was always, ‘Ok, we’re working out, we’re training, we’re training. But when my dad passed away, I did a lot of crazy things. I partied, I was spending money I shouldn’t have spent…because I don’t have that dominant voice to tell me I’m trippin.”

His brother, Byron, also speaks to the bad influences around DeSean.

“My dad was very protective of who DeSean came out with and some of his friends,” Byron says. “Since my dad passed, some of the friends have come back around, and they weren’t good news for DeSean.”

A constant theme of the show is Jackson’s mother and sister having to control DeSean. In one scene, his sister (who admits she has to follow DeSean around to make sure he is following the rules) sits him down to discuss him and his friends jumping off of a roof into the pool.

“Does nobody have common sense in the group?” A’Dreea says. “You take enough risks in your every day-to-day life.

“There are definitely some people around I question,” A’Dreea says of DeSean’s friends. “Their life is just like a big party.”

Compare that to what we’ve heard about Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor. There is no question that Jackson is more talented. It isn’t close. But can you ever build a championship team with a guy like him?

People love to point out the Cowboys teams of the early 90’s. Listen to Michael Irvin talk and you understand that they worked hard and played hard. They busted their butts in practice. Those players were so ultra-competitive that they weren’t going to allow the partying to affect the on-field product. They wanted to be the kings of the football world. There was no desire to be a rap star.

Kelly wants players who want to be great players. He wants stars that he can count on. Guys that will motivate themselves and will help others. Kelly doesn’t want to have to coach effort. That should be a given.

Tim McManus has a great story on some Eagles getting together out west and working together during this down time. This is exactly what Kelly wants.

A good number of the players in attendance have Southern California ties, like Ryan Mathews and Seyi Ajirotutu. Matt Barkley was there for a portion of the week as well, Durkin said. Others, like Jordan Matthews,  wandered a little further from their roots to be there.

They are all staying in one house, says Durkin, and travel around together in a white van that he has dubbed the “Eaglemobile.”

“I said all you need now is a green pair of wings on that van and you’ll be set,” he said. “It’s cool, the bonding that is happening. You’ve got the guys driving around in a white van, they’re coming out and laughing and having fun. When it’s go time they’re working their butts off. We’ve got rookies out here, we’ve got guys that are trying to make the club, we’ve got proven veterans that are showing the young guys how to work.”

I especially love the nugget about the van.

You can take a risk on talented players with character flaws. More than a few of those guys have won Super Bowls. But you can also end up having a team fall apart and getting yourself fired. Kelly prefers players he can trust to do the right thing, whether he is watching or not. We’ll see if this formula pays off for him.

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A Bit More on OLs and RBs

Posted: July 10th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 52 Comments »

Tom Landry’s storied career ended after the 1988 season. Jimmy Johnson inherited a team that lacked talent and had gotten into a losing rut.

But Jimmy also inherited LT Mark Tuinei and LG Nate Newton. They had started both 1987 and 1988 together. Dallas had a star RB in Herschel Walker in those years. While he was productive (1,514 yards in 1988), those were some empty yards. The team won 3 games and was 21st in the league in scoring. You know how even the worst team in the NBA is going to have a leading scorer…that’s what Walker had become by then. He could fill up the stat sheet and even have some great moments, but he wasn’t a guy you built an offense around.

Fast forward to 1992 and 1993. Emmitt Smith was in the prime of his career and running like a mad-man to the left side. Smith was the epitome of the RB you build an offense around. The Cowboys key play was called Load Left. Smith let Tuinei and Newton pave the way for him on run after run. While Tuinei and Newton were the left side on some crappy teams, they were also the left side on a team that won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years.

Newton used to joke that he didn’t become a Pro Bowl player untill Emmitt Smith arrived. Newton said he was the same guy the whole time, but with Smith running that somehow made him into a star blocker. That’s over-simplifying things a bit, but you get the point. The right RB can make his blockers look like studs.

Another sign that points to the value of someone like Smith…he held out in 1993 and Dallas went 0-2 without him, scoring a total of 26 points. They had the OL, Aikman, Irvin and Novacek. But without Smith…the offense was completely different. Unfortunately he returned and the team went 12-2.

Thinking about Herschel also made me remember 1994. He and Vaugh Hebron were the 1-2 punch at RB to begin the year. Walker didn’t even have 100 yards total after 3 games. The Eagles then had a bye week. Out of that they went to SF, where a rookie named Charlie Garner made his debut. He was 16-111 with 2 TDs in that game and gave the running game a spark that made it look totally different than it had in years. A RB with speed and moves? Freaky Friday.

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I mentioned Bill Callahan in yesterday’s post. I didn’t realize that he had moved on to WAS. That’s bad for Dallas and good for the Skins. Callahan is one of the better OL coaches in the league. He knows the running game.

Dallas replaced him with Frank Pollack. He might turn out to be a terrific OL coach, but he doesn’t have the experience and track record of Callahan. It will be interesting to see if this is a move that will hurt Dallas more than they know.

Pollack was the Assistant OL coach for the Texans for several years. They had a terrific run game in that time so he might turn out to be a good hire for Dallas.

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Mark Saltveit, the Chip Kelly guru, has a good piece on Kelly.

This is Mark and Ross Tucker discussing/writing about Kelly and some of his ideas. Good stuff.

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