Wow. After weeks of dull silence, there was an explosion of Chip Kelly news this week. The somewhat reclusive coach went over the head of the local press and swept national football reporters off their feet, while his players improved, fought and generally created genuine excitement.
As near as anyone can remember, Chip has given only a single one-on-one print interview (to George Schroeder at the Register Guard in Eugene) since he hooked up with Oregon almost 10 years ago. The closest the Philadelphia press crew has come to that was the round table interview granted to beat reporters in the late spring of each of his two NFL years, and even those were embargoed for several weeks.
Then suddenly, as his second NFL training camp opened, Kelly was everywhere with three local press conferences and a host of NFL celebrity reporters visiting Philadelphia — Albert Breer, draft guru Daniel Jeremiah, and Louis Riddick, among others. Sports Illustrated’s Doug Farrar had a particularly tasty piece on “How Eagles coach Chip Kelly makes his running backs better.” And the MMQB’s Peter King won the grand prize, leading off his piece with this humblebrag:
“I’ve had only two extended conversations with Kelly since he was named coach of the Eagles 19 months ago. To say I know him well would be folly. But I’m starting to get a feel for him.”
But that’s not even half of it. It’s a genuine Chip Kelly moment. Chip was seen talking to Michael Irvin Thursday. Mike Leach and Urban Meyer are bragging about talking football with him. Ross Tucker’s Podcast had a superb interview by Bill Polian with the coach.
Chip Kelly is not Duck fans’ secret special bit of inside knowledge anymore. Listen to Greg Bedard — one of the nation’s best NFL writers and, like King, with SI’s MMQB. This may be a spoiler, but the title of the article is “Eagles Report: The Genius of Chip Kelly.” Here are a few excerpts:
“When you walk onto Chip Kelly’s practice field, you enter one of the most unique experiences in football anywhere. So as a football junkie, I was excited. And it lived up to the billing.
“Kelly runs, by far, the most efficient practice in all of football. There is no wasted time on the field.
“At one point, the offensive starters lined up against the entire defensive unit. At every defensive position, the four-deep roster was lined up, one behind the other at each position … the less-experienced players could mirror and learn from the players in front of them. That’s just smart. And it’s so simple. That’s the genius of Chip Kelly.”
Apparently, Chip is just as efficient with the media as he is on the football field. He doesn’t spend extra time on local print reporters, just sticking to press conferences (he does, though, do regular broardcast interviews during the season with radio titan Angelo Cataldi and the Eagles’ own TV host Dave Spadaro — five-minute live interviews, where he doesn’t need to leave the NovaCare Center, with limited audience and much easier for Chip to control).
If he wants publicity, he goes straight to the national bigwigs and gets every possible eyeball per minute of time spent. That’s feeding the tuna mayonnaise, as I described in The Tao of Chip Kelly.
What about, you know, actual football? As training camp unfurled, the backup QBs (Mark “Buttfumble” Sanchez and Matt “Might Even Lose Out to GJ Kinne” Barkley) improved dramatically after looking just plain bad in Organized Team Activities (OTAs) this spring. The defense, seemingly outmatched in the first few full practices of training camp, exploded on Wednesday with four interceptions and several batted passes.
Free agent safety pickup Malcolm Jenkins is very impressive, both as a player (two INTs on Wednesday) and a position leader, and Earl Wolff moved up to the first team squad, signaling a serious position battle with veteran Nate Allen for the second safety spot. Cornerback Nolan Carroll also shined, pushing Bradley Fletcher for a starting job at cornerback opposite Cary (“Sconces”) Williams. Given how terrible the Eagles’ secondary was last year, you can’t have too much competition or depth.
Oregon’s Taylor Hart is standing out on defense, earning a couple of specific mentions from the Philly beat reporters.
The Eagles are showing a lot of wheel routes in practice, which makes sense with LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles and Chris Polk — a former wide receiver — as their running backs. Then again, last year at this time Chip was showing a lot of three- and even four-tight end looks, which didn’t materialize in the regular season. It’s hard to know whether that was deliberate trickeration — fooling teams into wasting their practice time on plays the Eagles never ran — or because Zach Ertz took a while to get up to speed — missing spring practice due to Stanford’s academic schedule, and struggling with drops early.
My sense is that Kelly is so immersed in his job that he operates by gut instinct much of the time. His logic isn’t always linear – and it’s all the better for it. Whatever the reason, Ertz did come on strong in the second half as the Eagles went 9-1 to close out the regular season. You can expect to see lots of wheel routes this year, and with these players, knowing it’s coming doesn’t mean you’ll be able to stop it.
If you like the Xs and Os, hardcore football porn, there’s another great article from Sheil Kapadia, who has carved out a niche as the best scheme analyst among the Eagles’ beat writers. This time, Kapadia dissects the snag concept — actually, a combination of snag, corner and bubble screen routes — with the help of FishDuck.com’s own Brian Flinn, Villanova’s wide receivers coach. If you want to know what RVA means (receivers versus air, but what is that?) and how to beat a Cover One defense, this is the article you crave.
Back in the spring, I noted that the Washington Redskins had a player fight almost as soon as OTAs opened, which several jaded longtime Eagles’ fans (fond of DeSean Jackson, who had just signed with Washington) mocked me for. “Fights are a typical part of the off-season,” they correctly observed.
My point was that at Washington — with a first-year coach and a 27-year-old first-time offensive coordinator, both tasked with managing the notorious diva Jackson — player fights could signal something atypically bad. Similarly, last summer when Chip was a first-year coach, Williams fought with Riley Cooper, not long after Cooper was infamously YouTubed shouting a racial slur. And I expressed concern about that, too.
Well, this week as training camp opened, the Eagles had not one but two player fights, and the Twitterati naturally mocked me for my earlier stance. Fair enough. I don’t think these fights were worrisome, but maybe I’m just biased in favor of Chip Kelly. The coach himself had a great response when a reporter asked him about the tiff.
“Yeah, their emotions got the better part of them. Those things happen. It’s no different than sometimes little kids don’t get along very well and throw Tonka trucks at each other. I don’t think the fact that it made SportsCenter must have meant it’s the world’s slowest sports day, I can tell you that. That two kids push each other in practice somewhere, so … not a real big deal.”
As long as Chip keeps giving great quotes like that, reporters will come to him, and he won’t need to work very hard at publicity. And as long as Chip keeps implementing his vision of a great football team with sports science, efficient practices and egoless team building, his star — and the Eagles’ Super Bowl prospects — will keep rising.
Cover photo from video (courtesy of PhiladelphiaEagles.com)
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.
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