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In Part II of our five-part “Making the Jump” series about Chip Kelly’s first training camp, we examine Kelly’s blueprint for this year’s camp.
Chip Kelly had never coached at the NFL level before the Eagles hired him. Never been an assistant. Not even a low-level quality control coach.
Given his bare professional resume and reputation for being an innovator at the college level, his January hiring raised eyebrows around league circles. While some felt he could follow in the footsteps of Bill Walsh or Jimmy Johnson, others grouped him with Steve Spurrier.
As he gets ready to conduct his first professional training camp, the former University of Oregon coach has already shrugged off the suggestion that he must make drastic coaching changes to adjust to the NFL level and to prepare his team for their Sept. 9 opener on Monday night against the Redskins.
“It’s still the same exact thing,” he said. “We had 27 practice opportunities at the NCAA level. I think we’ve got 28 here. The only difference is we play four [preseason] games here. We had three scrimmages in college.”
Still, nobody really knows what Kelly’s inaugural camp will look like. Several Eagles were asked that question before they scattered for a six-week break.
Will they operate at breakneck speed like they did during the spring camps? Will Kelly implement more read-option plays with pads on? Will the new sheriff lay down laws that make camp harder and tenser than past camps the Eagles have attended?
“I don’t think it’s gonna be any harder,” right guard Todd Herremans said. “It’ll definitely be a little different. But I think everybody is excited to do it, just because we’re excited to get out there in training camp and see what’s going to happen and we all want to be working at a high gear when that rolls around.”
Anyone who’s paid attention to the Eagles so far already knows about the blaring music, the sprints from one drill to another and the other quirky innovations and scientific training methods Kelly has implemented at the NovaCare Complex.
It’s the kind of stuff you didn’t typically see the past 14 years under former coach Andy Reid, a traditionalist who believed in the old-school virtues of camaraderie-building and steam-soaked practices on Lehigh’s remote campus.
The biggest difference is that Kelly is keeping camp in South Philadelphia, but his blueprint shares similarities with Big Red’s.
The Eagles won’t be bunked up in dorms, but Kelly will have the team lodged at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott, at least for the first few days. Rookies will stay for the duration of camp, but veterans will eventually be free to return home.
The players will dine together, just not on benches in a dining hall or the familiar downtown Bethlehem fast-food joints. Meals will take place at the NovaCare Complex cafeteria.
The complex itself will essentially serve as camp’s headquarters, with all meetings, practices, classroom sessions and football preparations taking place there.
“The only thing they're going to do at hotel is sleep,” Kelly said.
This will be the first professional training camp carried out by Kelly, but not the head coach’s first experience with an NFL training camp. He’s visited several camps in years past, including New England’s and Miami’s.
As a wave of newer, younger head coaches has swept over the league over the past decade, training camps have changed. Teams have scaled down on contact at practice, and two-a-days are fast becoming archaic.
Kelly will have one session per day -- a late-morning walk-through followed by a 12:30 p.m. start of practice. They’ll practice in the early afternoon, as Kelly explained, because that’s when most NFL games kick off on Sundays.
“It’s gonna be interesting,” center Jason Kelce said. “I think it’s gonna be a little bit shorter practices, probably, than what Andy had, a little more upbeat, fast paced like we’ve seen out here [in the minicamps].
“I don’t think they’re going to be long, drawn-out things. When you’re training for the no-huddle, when you’re practicing for the no huddle, everything has to be at a fast pace because that’s what the whole tempo of your offense is built around, so I imagine that practices will be a lot faster, a lot less standing around, a lot more active.”
Kelly divides his practice into about 20 short, quick sessions designed to maximize reps and limit standing around. Play calls are dictated through hand signals from the sidelines instead of the traditional huddle, and actual coaching and teaching during practice are reserved for a smattering of “teach” periods that are likewise succinct.
"What's the thinking?” Kelly said. “You got X amount of time for individual, X amount of time for group, X amount of time for team. So we just break it up accordingly. You can't have an entire two-hour practice that's just all individualized, but you can't go out there either and have the entire practice that's all team, all 11-on-11.
"Our breaks -- if you're talking about our teach periods -- [are because] we've just gone full speed for 12 minutes. Well, you can't go full speed for 25 minutes and practice the way we want to practice. So we just have to break up those 11-on-11 periods. So you're going 12-minute, full-speed 11-on-11, and then there's a five-minute teach period.
“People are learning. They're actively learning, but we're not running them. We can't ask them to practice as hard as we want them to practice, but then there's never a break in there. The teach period's a physical period, but it's not a mental break."
The music, which pauses only for teach periods, is intended to provide distraction and simulate the noise and clutter that football players commonly encounter on game day.
“So it kind of grates to you a little bit,” he said, “so you learn how to perform when you’re not paying attention to anything else but your time on task, is what you’re trying to get accomplished.”
Why not just pump in crowd music through the speakers?
“We don’t like crowd noise,” he said. “So it just has to be loud. So it doesn’t matter. The particular songs don’t matter. All that stuff doesn’t matter. One of our guys selects them, so I don’t know what the songs are nor do I care what the songs are. As long as they’re not pornographic or anything ...
“It’s just like a game. You need to focus on what you’re supposed to take care of on the field, not the crowd itself, not the crowd noise, none of that stuff.”
Some of the cries from the outside claiming that Kelly’s system is revolutionary and pioneering are overboard. The New England Patriots ran an up-tempo offense heavy on the no huddle for the past few years. Other teams have used music in their practices and several more have incorporated schemes and formations from the college game into their playbooks.
In the end, Kelly said, it’s just football -- even if his critics don’t realize that he understands that.
“I’ve always realized that,” he said. “That’s what it is. The only difference is that obviously the season’s longer and the size of your roster is different, but the game of football is still the same. It’s still 11-on-11 and us going out there and preparing and being more fresh and ready to play than the other team.”