Perhaps the most overblown story of the offseason so far is about the NFL’s V.P. of officiating coming down on up-tempo offenses like what the Eagles plan to run under Chip Kelly this season. Let’s hear what he has to say:
“We have to make sure teams understand that they don't control the tempo, our officials do,” said NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino. “We're going through our normal ball mechanics; we aren't going to rush [unless] it's in the two minute drill.”
Okay, so number one, this statement doesn’t appear to be directed strictly at the Eagles even though Kevin Clark makes it about the Eagles for the Wall Street Journal. What people should realize is Chip did not invent the up-tempo offense. In fact, this has already been a source of tension between the league and New England Patriots and Peyton Manning in years past, as both have been running no-huddle or up-tempo offenses for years. Why would anybody, including Chip Kelly, expect the rules to be any different for the Eagles?
The whole angle is a reach in my opinion. Kelly told reporters at practice on Wednesday that he is aware of the rules and his team will play as fast as they allow – just like the Patriots, Manning, and everyone else in the NFL. The fact that the officials chose this offseason for a refresher on the rules was probably a coincidence. Regardless, I don’t expect it to make much of a difference, as both of these other examples have proven they are able to own tempo and use that to their advantage against opponents every week.
Tackling, or lack thereof
What isn’t a manufactured controversy at Eagles training camp on the other hand is the conspicuous absence of tackling. Kelly admitted there would be no tackling to the ground during the team’s 11-on-11 drills, and they are saving that for the preseason.
In certain other camps this might not be as big a story, but the Eagles have been a bad tackling team for years. It’s fair to question how they intend to improve in that aspect of the game if it’s not practiced during live periods. Chip offered his take on Monday.
“We have four preseason games for that. They're hitting pretty good when they get an opportunity. The big thing with tackling, you want to be on your feet anyway. We don't want people diving. We want a good form tackle so they get an opportunity. In the first team period we do every day, we're going to be doing that.”
“When you get guys on the ground, it is not really the two guys that get tackled, it's what's chasing it. We're trying to keep everybody in every situation up. If I'm blocking my guy and I'm trying to finish to the whistle, two guys in front of me fell, that's where the biggest thing occurs. It's the pileups. Most of the time it's not the tackle or the tackler, it's the rest of the guys coming through.”
So it’s one part avoiding injury, one part teaching better form, which is interesting. He probably has a point about players lunging at the ball carrier, which often results in missed or broken tackles, and we’ve seen can also end in injuries to the defender’s head and neck area.
Not everybody on the outside is going to buy that, which is understandable. As Chip mentioned though, the Eagles are working on tackling in a separate drill for a few minutes each day, so it’s not as if there is none at all. This decision is going to attract a fair amount of skepticism until they show signs of improvement in some game situations.
Forgiven, not forgotten
Just to follow up on the Riley Cooper scandal, not all of his teammates will simply go back to normal after video of the wide receiver using a racial slur came to light. As you can imagine, it was still the hot topic at camp on Thursday, less than 24 hours removed from the 25-year-old’s apology.
LeSean McCoy: "I forgave Riley. It's new. I hope it wears off. At this point, I speak for myself and other teammates, I know it's different"
— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) August 1, 2013
For now it seems like this is going to be a bigger issue with how teammates and fans in Philadelphia view Cooper more than anything related to X’s and O’s. The league apparently is not going to punish him, nor does the organization seem to have any plans to release him. And while the Eagles’ locker room isn’t simply going to forget, so far they all say they are trying to move on.
There is some concern this situation could create some division in the locker room, which is not something Chip Kelly needed in his first season as head coach, or what anybody anywhere needed for that matter. I’m not sure we’ll know one way or the other until somebody speaks out publicly against Cooper. That’s not happening so far, but he’s not exactly getting rave reviews, either.