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Chip Kelly coached Jeff Maehl, Patrick Chung and Casey Matthews at the University of Oregon. All three players are on the Eagles' 53-man roster. (USA Today Images/AP)
Hardly, Chip Kelly said.
Asked on Wednesday if the five former Oregon standouts on his team -- three on the 53-man roster and two more on the practice squad -- were here to help him rebuild the foundation of the Eagles, Kelly, the former Oregon head coach, dismissed the suggestion.
“If we were going to sing the Oregon fight song, it would,” he said. “But besides that, I'm familiar with them and I know what they can do.”
Kelly has only three players he coached on the 53-man roster in safety Patrick Chung, linebacker Casey Matthews and wide receiver Jeff Maehl, and only Chung is a starter. The other two -- Isaac Remington and Brandon Bair -- are on the practice squad.
Kelly has four players on the 53-man roster from both Iowa and Cincinnati, but the number of former Ducks became a hot topic when he kept Matthews among five inside linebackers and went thin with just three outside linebackers.
Matthews, a third-year pro, has struggled on defense and special teams throughout his first two seasons and didn't have an impressive preseason. His presence on the roster gave the appearance that Kelly favored a former college player that he once coached.
Same with keeping Maehl, who joined the team midway through camp via trade with Houston, over impressive rookie free agent Russell Shepard, a former LSU standout who was claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay, and wideout Greg Salas, who was was re-signed to the practice squad after he was cut and cleared waivers.
Both Shepard and Salas had impressive camps, as did Emmanuel Acho, another inside linebacker cut instead of Matthews.
Kelly said his backup spots came down to special teams prowess and defended his decision to go heavy on inside linebackers and light on outside ’backers.
“Any backup spot we had on our team is all the value of special teams and where are those guys going to play?” he said. “So if you're going to be a backup player here, you have to be on teams. That's where that is.
“Right now at our outside linebacker spot we have a lot of rush guys and not a lot of drop guys. The one drop guy we had was Connor Barwin. So we kept a third rush guy [in Brandon Graham]. We kept [defensive lineman] Vinny [Curry]. We kind of look at [it as] Vinny could play in that spot for us if possible. But to keep another rush guy that's not contributing on teams just wasn't going to help us, especially when you get to 46.”
Kelly said Matthews would be cross-trained at outside linebacker to be able to fill in there for emergency situations, especially with the gameday roster trimmed from 53 to 46.
“Just in case you're at 46 in a game, you better have some versatility,” Kelly said, “so, if somebody like Connor were going to go down, you better have another drop guy.”