Chip Kelly's Eagles thriving with Reid-era holdovers

Chip Kelly's Eagles thriving with Reid-era holdovers
September 2, 2014, 9:45 am
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Ten of the Eagles' 11 offensive starters under Chip Kelly were brought in by Andy Reid, as well as six starters on defense. (USA Today Images)

We’re now two years removed from the Andy Reid era. Chip Kelly has come in, cleaned house, gutted the roster, brought in his own guys.

All that remains on his record-setting offense from his predecessor is four starting offensive linemen, an all-pro running back, one of the best tight ends in franchise history and both wide receivers.

All that’s left on defense is two of three defensive linemen, three starting linebackers, the best player in the secondary and a starting safety.

And then there’s the long snapper.

As the Eagles prepare for their second season under Kelly, Reid’s impact on the roster remains strong.

Reid brought in 10 of 11 offensive starters -- all but right tackle Allen Barbre -- along with six defensive starters.

So even with the Eagles' cutting ties since the end of last year with Reid-era acquisitions like DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson and Alex Henery, more than 70 percent of the starting lineup predates Kelly.

This says two things: First, Reid’s personnel moves may have been better than we realized at the time. It’s just that he had lost his way as a coach so dramatically it was impossible to tell. And second, an underrated facet of Kelly’s genius is his ability to not just find players in the draft and free agency to fit his systems but also to take players he inherited who had played in completely different schemes and find ways for them to fit into what he wants to do.

“I think sometimes when new guys come in, they already have a mindset of, 'No matter what they have, I don’t want those guys,'” said middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who joined the Eagles in 2012, Reid’s last year coaching the Eagles.

“They’re like, 'I’m going to clean house, bring in my guys.' But Chip came in and evaluated us and really did a fair evaluation. They came in and they just really, truly, evaluated football players and found the guys who could just play ball. 'He’s playing hard and making plays, we can find a role for him.'”

If you made a list of the top 20 players on the Eagles and ranked them one through 20, who would be the highest-rated Kelly acquisition?

That list might start out with LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles, Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis, Brandon Boykin, Mychal Kendricks and Jeremy Maclin -- all drafted or signed when Reid was the coach -- and then somewhere in there you’d have Zach Ertz, Connor Barwin and Malcolm Jenkins, the top Kelly guys.

But conservatively, that Top 20 list would include 14 to 16 players who joined the Eagles under Reid.

“We had great talent on the offensive side of the ball under Andy, and I think Chip realized that when he got here, and obviously watching film he was then able to take everybody’s talents and adjust them into the schemes he wanted to run and offensive styles he wanted to run,” Kelce said.

“You can go two different directions if you’re a new coach. You can either clean house, start fresh, go young and try to build from within, or you can take what you have and try to make the best of what you have and at the same time continue to build with young guys.

“We were just fortunate on the offensive side of the ball we had the players in place for that tactic to work, and Chip realized that. That’s one of the things that makes him a great head coach, a great offensive mind.

“We have a lot of athletes on the offensive side of the ball, and whenever you have athletic, versatile guys, you can adjust to multiple different schemes.”

In 2012, Reid’s final year, the Eagles went 4-12, averaged 17.5 points per game and netted 354 yards of offense per game.

Last year, with only 10 of 11 holdover starters, the Eagles went 10-6, averaged 27.6 points per game and netted 418 yards per game.

Yes, Kelly got more out of Reid’s players than Reid did.

“The guys here, they can play football,” Maclin said. “It’s not just the system that had us successful under Coach Reid. I think we have guys who can play football. Chip re-energized us, put in a whole new scheme and a whole new vibe and that kind of refreshed us a little bit.

“But we have a lot of very talented guys and we took our talents from one system and put them in another.

“I’ve always been a Coach Reid guy. It was just time for a change. Everything was going downhill, we weren’t winning games, feeling the pressure from the city, everything going on with his family. I think there was talent here. We just needed to be re-energized.”

In all, the Eagles' opening-day roster will have 22 players that Reid brought in and 31 that Kelly brought in. And 15 of Reid’s 23 are starters, 10 on offense and five on defense. The remaining Reid non-starters are Dennis Kelly, Chris Polk, Boykin, Jon Dorenbos, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Casey Matthews.

You can make a case that the team’s best quarterback, best running back, two best receivers, four best offensive linemen, two best pass rushers and best cornerback are all Reid-era pickups.

“You have good players on every team, it’s a matter of how coachable guys are, and I felt like Andy brought in guys who were really coachable guys and guys who were willing to buy in,” Ryans said.

“And after suffering such a poor season [in 2012], a disappointing season, when that change comes, you’re just kind of hungry for, 'OK, I’m going to do whatever I've got to do to make sure this kind of season doesn’t happen again.'

“So initially, the disappointment turned into an eagerness to do things fast and do them the right way.”

Give Reid credit for not leaving the cupboard bare. Even though Reid did not draft well for much of the second half of his tenure here and had a series of free agency catastrophes, the success Kelly had with Reid’s guys last year shows that maybe his personnel moves weren’t quite as bad as we thought.

And give Kelly credit for taking a fair look at the roster when he arrived instead of just taking a 4-12 team and gutting it.

“It does speak highly of the coaches that they’ve been able to make so few changes and have the success that they’ve had in the first year,” said Mathis, who came in under Reid but made his first Pro Bowl under Kelly.

“And it also speaks highly of the people that Andy Reid brought in and his ability to judge talent and bring good players in.”

Kelly may have a huge ego. But working with general manager Howie Roseman, his ego wasn’t so big that he just jettisoned all the players he inherited.

“If you gut the roster, you’re starting over, you’re not going 10-6 and winning the division last year,” Ryans said. “And the way the league is now, you don’t get two, three years to turn things around. The guy in Cleveland (Rob Chudzinski), he got one year and done.

“There are no three-year plans. You have to win now. And with Chip last year, it worked out. We had the season we had that nobody expected.”

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