Weapon in the Trenches: The Center in Chip Kelly’s Offense

Grasu Featured Image

When people talk about Chip Kelly’s offense, one of the most common buzz words they use is mobility. Although mobility helps running back LeSean McCoy burst through the line of scrimmage or receiver Jeremy Maclin get wide open, it is arguably more important for the offensive linemen who keep defenses out of the backfield.

Kelly has been fortunate to have exceptionally athletic centers at his disposal during his tenure at the University of Oregon and the Philadelphia Eagles. Eagles center Jason Kelce has the optimal combination of speed, strength, technique, and nastiness for a professional offensive lineman. Oregon fifth-year senior Hroniss Grasu—who played under Kelly from 2010 to 2012 and suffered a leg injury during last Saturday’s 51-27 victory over Utah—has been following Kelce’s footsteps as a pro prospect with impressive athleticism. Kelly’s use of mobile centers adds another dimension to his heralded offensive scheme.

Jason Kelce: Freak of Nature

It is no coincidence that McCoy struggled to find holes while Kelce was sidelined with an abdominal injury. When Kelce returned on November 2nd against the Houston Texans, his ability to punish second-level defenders was on full display on an inside zone run to the left.

Kelce has no defender shading the gap to his play-side, so his responsibility is to help left guard Matt Tobin block his defender and get to the linebacker.

From Video

Kelce has no defender shading the gap to his play-side, so his responsibility is to help left guard Matt Tobin block his defender and get to the linebacker.

Tobin got solid push on the defensive lineman, so Kelce quickly gets himself in position to block the linebacker.

From Video

Tobin has solid push on the defensive lineman, so Kelce quickly gets himself in position to block the linebacker.

Kelce gets his hands on the linebacker to gain leverage against him.

From Video

Kelce gets his hands on the linebacker to gain leverage against him.

McCoy finds the cutback lane created by Tobin and Kelce to pick up 26 yards. Kelce shoves the linebacker to the ground to take him out of the play.

From Video

McCoy finds the cutback lane created by Tobin and Kelce to pick up 26 yards. Kelce shoves the linebacker to the ground to take him out of the play.

Kelly often uses the Sweep Read, which combines elements of the classic sweep play with the Outside Zone Read to take advantage of his center’s freakish athleticism.

Kelce points at the linebacker, the defender whom he will block on this play.

From Video

Kelce points at the linebacker, the defender that he will block on this play.

In a twist from the Outside Zone Read, Tobin and Kelce pull to the left to block a defensive back and a linebacker. Quarterback Mark Sanchez is reading the unblocked edge-rusher, who chooses not to crash down and let McCoy keep the ball.

From Video

In a twist from the Outside Zone Read, Tobin and Kelce pull to the left to block a defensive back and a linebacker. Quarterback Mark Sanchez is reading the unblocked edge-rusher, who chooses not to crash down, so Sanchez lets McCoy keep the ball.

Kelce uses his whole body to cut block the linebacker and take him out of the play.

From Video

Kelce uses his whole body to cut block the linebacker and take him out of the play.

The linebacker is consequently tripped up, which allows McCoy to pick up a 14-yard gain.

From Video

The linebacker is consequently tripped up, which allows McCoy to pick up a 14-yard gain.

Kelce’s mobility is also useful in the passing game, particularly on screen passes. In Week 6 of 2013, Kelly called a screen pass to McCoy for the first play from scrimmage. Kelce got the Eagles off to a strong beginning.

Receiver DeSean Jackson will motion to the left to distract the defense from the screen to McCoy on the right.

From Video

Receiver DeSean Jackson will motion to the left to distract the defense from the screen to McCoy on the right.

Kelce engages the defensive tackle at the start of the play, selling the downfield pass well.

From Video

Kelce engages the defensive tackle at the start of the play, selling the downfield pass well.

Kelce, left guard Evan Mathis, and right guard Todd Herremans release their defenders and get ready to form a wall down the field.

From Video

Kelce, left guard Evan Mathis, and right guard Todd Herremans release their defenders and get ready to form a wall down the field.

Kelce finds a defensive back in a huge size mismatch for a one-on-one battle.

From Video

Kelce finds a defensive back in a huge size mismatch for a one-on-one battle.

Kelce gets his hands on the defensive back's chest and overwhelms him.

From Video

Kelce gets his hands on the defensive back’s chest and overwhelms him.

McCoy gets room to pick up a 44-yard gain because Kelce flattened his defender.

From Video

McCoy gets room to pick up a 44-yard gain because Kelce flattened his defender.

On one play in Week 3 against the Washington Redskins, Kelce’s natural athleticism and nastiness actually hurt the Eagles. Kelly called a screen pass to receiver Jeremy Maclin that could have been an 80-yard touchdown if Kelce had not make an illegal block downfield.

Kelce prepares to briefly engage the nose tackle.

From Video

Kelce prepares to briefly engage the nose tackle.

As quarterback Nick Foles releases the ball, Kelce sheds the nose tackle and gets ready to form another wall.

From Video

As quarterback Nick Foles releases the ball, Kelce sheds the nose tackle and gets ready to form another wall.

Kelce runs stride-for-stride with the Redskins defensive back more than 40 yards away from the line of scrimmage.

From Video

Kelce runs stride-for-stride with the Redskins defensive back more than 40 yards away from the line of scrimmage.

He unwisely chooses to block the defender in the back, even though he probably did not need to.

From Video

He unwisely chooses to block the defender in the back, even though he probably did not need to.

Despite his mistake on this play, it is clear that Kelce is one of the most fearsome offensive linemen in the pros. He is just as much of a weapon for Kelly as any of the skill players because his unique athletic ability.

Hroniss Grasu: Rock of the Oregon Offensive Line

Grasu’s injury is particularly alarming for the Ducks, as he was the rock on which head coach Mark Helfrich relied while other offensive linemen suffered injuries.

Like his predecessor, Helfrich exploits defenses by using his center’s mobility in space. Grasu might not be quite as athletic as Kelce, but he is a weapon in his own right. He made a key block in a 48-14 victory against Wyoming on a Sweep Read.

Helfrich adds a wrinkle to the Sweep Read by putting a slot receiver in motion for an exchange with the quarterback.

From Video

Helfrich adds a wrinkle to the Sweep Read by putting a slot receiver in motion for an exchange with the quarterback.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota reads the edge rusher who does not crash down. Grasu pulls to the right to pursue a linebacker.

From Video

Quarterback Marcus Mariota reads the edge rusher who does not crash down. Grasu pulls to the right to pursue a linebacker.

Grasu hustles to get himself in position to make a cut block.

From Video

Grasu hustles to get himself in position to make a cut block.

Grasu's block disrupts the defender's timing and throws him off course, causing him to whiff while trying to tackle running back Byron Marshall.

From Video

Grasu’s block disrupts the defender’s timing and throws him off course, causing him to whiff while trying to tackle running back Byron Marshall.

Helfrich also puts Grasu’s mobility to use in the bread-and-butter play of the Oregon offense, the inside zone. In Oregon’s 45-16 victory over Stanford, Grasu made a block at the second level that allowed running back Thomas Tyner to score a 21-yard touchdown.

Grasu is uncovered on this play, so he steps to his left to help left guard Hamani Stevens double-team the defensive lineman.

From Video

Grasu is uncovered on this play, so he steps to his left to help left guard Hamani Stevens double-team the defensive lineman.

Stevens and Grasu effectively seal the defensive lineman, so Grasu comes off the block.

From Video

Stevens and Grasu effectively seal the defensive lineman, so Grasu comes off the block.

In just a few steps, Grasu angles himself properly to engage the linebacker.

From Video

In just a few steps, Grasu angles himself properly to engage the linebacker.

Grasu drives the linebacker backwards several yards, allowing Tyner to run free up the middle.

From Video

Grasu drives the linebacker backwards several yards, allowing Tyner to run free up the middle.

While he shows several signs of being an impressive pro prospect, Grasu is hardly a finished product. He has not yet mastered his hand positioning on defenders and lacks the level of nastiness Kelce displays on defenders.

Nevertheless, Kelce himself took several years to develop into an elite NFL center. The NFL team that acquires Grasu will have a tremendous opportunity to develop a high-caliber offensive lineman with impressive potential. With proper coaching, Grasu could be a valuable offensive weapon for years to come.

Top photo from video

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Joe Kearns

Joe Kearns

Joe Kearns is a senior at the Pennsylvania State University majoring in Economics. He intends to pursue a career in the banking and financial services industries, but is also a lifelong diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan who enjoys analyzing college and pro football film as a hobby. Along with being a fan, Joe's football knowledge comes from his days as a center, defensive tackle, and long snapper for his high school in Mt. Lebanon, Pa. Though he is a Nittany Lion, he has taken a great interest in the Oregon football team since Chip Kelly became the Eagles head coach. He loves pancakes ( and not just the breakfast food).