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In Part I of our five-part “Making the Jump” series about Chip Kelly’s first training camp, we examine Kelly's plan for contact practices.
Andy Reid never hesitated when asked why his training camps were so physical.
"I just believe and I've always believed that tackling and blocking are important parts of football, and you have to work on those things at training camp," Reid said before one of his last training camps with the Eagles.
"We're going to go up there and we're going to hit. We don't want to get anybody hurt, but you have to hit to get ready for the season.”
Chip Kelly? His take is a little bit different.
For Reid, contact was what training camp was all about. For Kelly, it’s a necessary evil.
“That's the big catch-22 for all coaches,” Kelly said recently. “How much work do you need to get done, but also you don't want to injure your own players in practice.
“That's kind of a fine line. It's the toughest one I think coaches have to handle: How physical can your practices be, because the game is certainly going to be physical.”
Kelly’s first training camp as head coach of the Eagles begins Monday, when rookies and quarterbacks report to the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia. The rest of the team is due in on Friday, with the first full-team practices slated for Saturday.
With Reid, you knew the second practice with the full roster would be the initial one with live periods -- tackling to the ground.
With Kelly, nobody knows exactly what to expect. How much hitting? How much scrimmaging? How frequent will the live periods be? When will they start?
We will find out soon.
But it’s a safe bet the Eagles will hit less now -- probably significantly less -- than they did under Reid.
Where Reid relished the opportunities to go live, it seems like Kelly is going to hold his breath through the full-contact periods.
“You always kind of keep your fingers crossed that you're not going to get anybody hurt in practice,” Kelly said.
Reid’s training camp practices were notorious to the point where league officials informally asked him during the summer of 2002, a year after the tragic death of Korey Stringer, to eliminate his Three Days of Hell.
That was the three days of live two-a-days that opened up his first three training camps at Lehigh. Since 2002, teams have been allowed to hit only once a day.
As the CBA changed and rules governing practices evolved, Reid jammed as many contact periods as allowed into what was left of training camp.
Many believed that the extreme physical nature of Reid’s training camps had something to do with the slow starts the Eagles always got off to. They also may have had something to do with the team’s usual hot finishes.
Now Kelly comes in with a different approach. When Kelly talks about hitting, it sounds like something he has to do as opposed to something he wants to do.
“We still have to do a certain amount of it,” he said. “There's a certain amount of work that you've got to get done. You still have to be cognizant of the fact that you have to prepare for a season and prepare for games.
“Are we going to get enough [contact] to evaluate them but also mindful that we can’t get them injured either? There’s a delicate line there.”
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to this sort of thing. And hitting less makes sense in a lot of ways, especially in a league with a hard salary cap. You just can’t afford to lose players for the season in August.
But like Reid always said, blocking and tackling win football games, and if you don’t practice blocking and tackling in the preseason, how are you going to be proficient at them during the season?
Kelly wouldn’t say exactly how much he plans to hit during the training camp portion of the preseason, but he did say the Eagles won’t be hitting when they scrimmage the Patriots, “because we have a game three days later.”
So that’s a pretty good sign the live periods will be more infrequent under Kelly than they were under Reid.
Kelly did acknowledge that it’s impossible to really evaluate players without at least some live periods.
“[When] we don't have shoulder pads on ... trying to make evaluations of who players are and what their abilities are, if you can't be physical and hit people, then it's an entirely different game.”
But he did say the four preseason games will play a big role in that evaluation process. Quite possibly those games will make up a significantly larger percentage of the live work the Eagles get this summer than they have in the recent past.
“Obviously, it's different here than it is in college, because we don't have any preseason games in college,” he said. “Usually you've got three preseason scrimmages in college. It's a little different here because you're going to get the full contact in the four exhibitions with the Patriots, the Panthers, the Jaguars and the Jets, so it will be sprinkled within.”
When you think of Kelly’s practices, you think of warp speed and constant motion and a ton of reps jammed into a short amount of time.
You don’t really think of hitting and contact.
“I think we’ll hit in camp,” Brandon Graham said. “But I don’t think it’ll be anything like what we did with Coach Reid. I don’t think anybody hits as much as Coach Reid.”