Chip Kelly Update: Murderleg, RC Cars, 3 Ducks and the Draft

The long, slow, dull days of winter are over and Chip Kelly’s Eagles are crackling with activity.  He drafted a solid if unflashy group of players (including Ducks Josh Huff and Taylor Hart), added a number of UDFAs (such as a savage-tackling kicker nicknamed “Murderleg”) and wielded some innovative technologies that caused a stir around the league.

Better yet, Chip’s long silence was washed away in a flood of comments, during seven separate press conferences during the draft process.  Kelly spelled out what he looks for in players: toughness, versatility, intelligence, athleticism and true NFL size (especially height, arm length and hand size).

Josh Huff after his selection

from video

Josh Huff after his selection.

The coach was wonderfully blunt about the limits of this crazy but crucial draft circus.  Asked if he was happy with his draft picks, Kelly said,

“Honestly, I have no idea because literally … no one knows.  Three, four years down the road, we’re going to be, hey, that guy turned out to be a good player, there’s going to be somebody that surprises everybody, us included.  It’s an inexact science, and if someone thinks they have a formula or a metric that can get you there, I haven’t seen it yet.”

Amen.  That said, Chip and GM Howie Roseman, did everything possible to maximize their chances of success.  Before the draft, they met individually with each player picked except Josh Huff.  Two of the draftees (Huff and Hart, plus UDFA Wade Keliikipi) know the program very well because they played for Chip at Oregon; all of them were smart, versatile team players with good attitudes.

With a low pick in every round (N0. 22), the Birds traded down for extra picks and found scheme fits undervalued by other teams.  The Eagles play a 3-4, 2-gap defense shared by few other NFL teams (San Francisco, Pittsburgh).  First round pick Marcus Smith (an OLB from Louisville) and Oregon’s huge DE Taylor Hart (fifth round) were rated lower by most teams, but most teams run a 4-3 and don’t need them.  It was a shrewd move for a team that struggled on defense last year.

Taylor Hart

from video

Taylor Hart.

The Eagles also grabbed and all-time leading SEC receiver Jordan Matthews in the second round and the Ducks’ clutch WR Josh Huff in the third round,  to help replace DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant, both released, — and two defensive backs: Stanford safety Ed Reynolds and Florida’s Jaylen Watkins (who plays both cornerback and safety).  The haul ended with huge(6’2, 330) nose tackle Beau Allen of Wisconsin.

There were so many Ducks involved that the Eagles were forced to bring me in for a draft day interview on their telecast.  But the favorite addition of Philadelphia fans and writers wasn’t drafted at all.

Vanderbilt kicker Carey Spear is statistically a mediocre kicker (as is incumbent Alex Henery, against whom he’ll compete in training camp).  But he has two traits you’ve got to love: 1) his nickname is “Murderleg,” and 2) that name understates his savagery as a tackler.

Usually, a kicker tackling the returner is a sign of desperation, but for the Commodores, Spear was the enforcer.  There are lots of great video clips; check out this one.  Pretty awesome, huh?  Here’s another (slamming Cordarrelle Patterson).  And another.  You get the idea.  It’s a shame he kicks even shorter and wilder than Henery.

What is it with Chip Kelly and kickers?  He is so methodical about getting great players but loses big games every year (from Stanford in 2012 to New Orleans in the playoffs this year) because he always has a weak kicker.  It’s a peculiar blind spot, the one consistent flaw on his teams.

Beau Allen (on right)

from video

Beau Allen

A hectic couple of weeks ended with a silly controversy.  Draftee Allen told a reporter he met Chip Kelly (at his pre-draft interview) when the coach crashed a radio-controlled car into his leg.  Uh, why was Chip playing with an RC car?  ”They use it out on the field because they can’t do motions,” he told Tim McManus of Birds 24/7.

I wrote a column goofing on the idea and wondering what “they can’t do motions” meant.  My colleague at Bleeding Green Nation, Brandon Lee Gowton, figured this was a way around restrictions on the earliest Phase 1 practices, which are supposed to be for conditioning only.  That sounded reasonable, so I proposed the theory in print.

A lot of websites picked up the notion, from Yahoo Sports and Bleacher Report to the official websites of the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL itself.  But some wondered if this was a violation of league restrictions, and hotheads on Reddit started talking about NFL penalties on Chip and the Birds.  It was all ridiculous — it’s a toy car for heaven’s sake — and when I dug into it further, it turned out that the car wasn’t used until Phase 2, when all was OK.  Still, it was a good excuse for some silly jokes and photos.

All of this, from criticism of draft picks that other teams didn’t see the value in, to squabbling over toy cars, just shows how off-kilter Chip is – trying things that other people don’t think of, or are afraid to try.  It’s easy to make fun of him with tired jokes about personalized smoothies and sleep monitors, except that he keeps winning (and having fun with his team while he does it).

After a year in the NFL, Chip Kelly’s lifetime record as a head coach is 57-14.  That’s not a bad start.


Feature photo from video, courtesy of

Mark Saltveit’s latest book, “Chip Kelly’s Total Pressure Football,” will be released by Diversion Books in August, 2014.

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Mark Saltveit

Mark Saltveit

Mark Saltveit's newest book is "Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly's Football Revolution" (Diversion Books, NY) has been recently released. He is the author of "The Tao of Chip Kelly" (2013) and writes on science, religion, wordplay and political scandals. He is also a standup comedian and the world palindrome champion.

  • ronnieblowhard

    It’s a good article. Drafting for scheme, instead of drafting based on draftnik projections. What a concept. So really if this is how Chip and Roseman are going to do it they will always be “reaching” on defensive players since they play a unique style of defense. Meaning draftnik projections will more than likely be correct for the Eagles when talking about offensive positions *at least the first 5 players at each position*, but off since they play a unique defense. But of those two other teams that play a 2 gap defense, wow. If the Eagles could someday even be mentioned in the same breath as them….. Shouldn’t that benefit them when drafting defensive players though? I mean if they covet the undervalued guys more because they fit their scheme then they should be available in the later rounds.

    • Mark Saltveit

      Sure. In theory, being unique should always get you good value relative to other teams. It’s like not wanting the trendy Members Only jacket all the cool kids want. You should be able to find something for your taste that’s less expensive.

      • 76mustang

        Members Only reference! If only they came with a key to the Playboy Clubs…thanks for opening the time capsule :)

  • Douglas Fur ’74

    Maybe Chip is a fan of the Ettore Bugatti comment who,when questioned about using cheap brakes in his race cars “I make my cars to go, not to stop.” Having “cheap” kickers may be a statement of “We’re here to score touchdowns, not kick the ball around.”
    DRB ’74

    • Mark Saltveit

      Interesting theory, and I could see that. “Kicking is for losers.” The losses are piling up though. And he doesn’t have many losses for any reason.

  • Ian

    The Eagles had a head scratching draft full of reaches and miscues. I don’t care how great of a fit Marcus Smith is, they over-drafted him. Then they have a shot at getting Lous Nix III, a dominant space eating NT who was projected as a first rounder prior to some health issues, and they trade him away to the Texans. Later they take a big DT, Beau Allen, who is terrible. Chip reaches again later in the third, when he selects his guy Josh Huff, who would have gone at least 1 round later and there were probably 4 better receivers available at that point of the draft. They then reached again for Taylor Hart who is nothing special. We need to start a list of all the bad Oregon players that Chip brings in. So far we have Patrick Chung, Dennis Dixon, Casey Matthews, Will Murphy, and Jeff Maehl on there.

    Why wont Chip go for the former Duck studs, like Jairus Byrd or TJ Ward?

    • fairweatherfoul

      When you draft your fantasy team choose other players. But you should probably let professionals draft players for the real teams.

    • Matt

      Marcus Smith is a pass rusher… i dont care where YOU think he would have been drafted. Pass rushers always go early, because it is such a valuable trait. Eagles arent the only team that passed on Nix III; infact, 32 teams passed on him TWICE, and some more… Eagles did not like him simply because he’s seen as a 2 down player, and they want their guys to play all downs. Josh Huff could hardly be called a reach also, because with the league trending toward more 11 packages, Huff would be the ideal slot for many teams and could have gone soon after. Hart is also projected to become a starter down the road, and is a perfect fit for a 3-4 DE.

      Matthews wasnt brought here by Chip, so idk why you listed him, Dixon was just a camp body, nothing more.. and Byrd has big injury concerns, best to stay away, and Ward didnt fit simple as that

    • hokieduck

      Patrick Chung was an Eagle before Chip got there. Dennis Dixon was a guy who knew the system, was cheap and helped teach Vick and Foles but did not make the eventual roster.

  • wooddt

    Can we stop with the double-space after periods?

    • fairweatherfoul

      You may punctuate as you please, like the poet, E. E. Cummings.
      The rest of us English majors will continue to use 2 spaces to start a new sentence when typing.

    • hokieduck

      Why? It helps readability in a long paragraph.