Kelly's blueprint for Eagles roster: Bigger is better

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Kelly's blueprint for Eagles roster: Bigger is better
March 21, 2013, 12:30 pm
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PHOENIX -- The archetype Chip Kelly football player is long, rangy and athletic. He prefers to manhandle his opponent, not deceive or finesse him.

That hasn’t always been the philosophy preached by Eagles coaches or the blueprint used by the front office in assembling the roster. For years, Andy Reid built his defenses on quickness in the trenches and speed on the edges.

When Reid hired offensive line coach Howard Mudd in 2011, the last facet of the team still built around brawn transformed overnight into a smaller, lighter unit that functioned off guile and deception.

The Eagles can’t turn over their entire roster overnight to fit Kelly’s mold, but some of the free-agent additions already fit the coach’s preference. With nine picks in next month’s draft, they can continue to shape the roster in Kelly’s vision.

“You have to adjust to what you have,” Kelly said. “No one is starting from square one and saying, ‘How do we build the perfect defense, offense, special teams?’ So you always have to make adjustments to what you do. But we want taller, longer people because big people beat up little people.”

One of Oregon’s top draft prospects this year offers an inside look at Kelly’s model athlete. Outside linebacker/defensive end Dion Jordan, widely viewed as a top-12 pick, stands at 6 foot 7 and weighs 268 pounds, with arms that dangle nearly 34 inches and boundless athleticism.

Likewise, the Eagles jumped at the chance to sign free-agent rush linebacker Connor Barwin, a 6-foot-3, 253-pound former Texan who the team believes has the kind of through-the-roof athleticism that will fit with coordinator Billy Davis’ scheme.

Newcomer cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams are also considered physical, lunch-pail corners who should help fans forget about the mishaps of bringing in the tackling-allergic tandem of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

But the traits and body types that make up Kelly’s paradigm athlete call into question the futures of some current players on the roster.

Brandon Graham, the team’s best pass rusher last season who will move from defensive end to outside linebacker for the final year of his rookie contract, is shorter and stockier than most edge rushers.

The 6-foot-2, 265-pound former first-round pick has size that better fit the 4-3 scheme played in college and in the first three seasons of his NFL career, although several 3-4 teams worked him out before the draft.

Graham is one of six pass rushers on the roster, and his job security would become cloudy if the Eagles added another outside linebacker high in the draft.

On the offensive line, center Jason Kelce and right guard Danny Watkins potentially face uncertain futures with Kelly’s hiring of former Alabama offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland to do the same job in Philadelphia.

Stoutland was known for producing the rare linemen who were enormous and mauling but mobile and athletic. The two-time defending BCS champion Tide have three top offensive line prospects -- guard Chance Warmack, tackle D.J. Fluker and center Barrett Jones -- who are each over 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds.

The undersized Kelce (6-2, 295) was Mudd’s pet project, a sixth-round pick whose quickness perfectly fit the coach’s active and unorthodox blocking schemes.

Kelce admitted after last season that he would probably need to add about 10 pounds and prepare for a radically different blocking scheme and offensive philosophy.

Size isn’t an issue for Watkins, who has started just 18 games since being picked 23rd overall in the 2011 draft. His durability and an overall passion for the game has been questioned. Watkins is a Canadian former firefighter who seems to lack the blue-collar fighter’s mentality that usually comes with battling in the trenches.

Kelly was asked if he put special demands on his offensive linemen that might be different than other coaches.

“No, I think everybody is looking for the same thing,” he said. “You want an athletic person at all spots. But they still have to be tough, hard-nosed, physical -- be able to knock people off the football.”

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