Personnel changes abound at Kelly's first open practice

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Personnel changes abound at Kelly's first open practice

May 13, 2013, 7:00 pm
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There were plenty of surprises Monday at the first Eagles practice open to the media under new head coach Chip Kelly, several that didn’t pertain to the genre of music blaring from the speakers or the number of quarterbacks throwing passes at the same time.

On the personnel front, Kelly’s first-team offensive line featured second-year pro Dennis Kelly at right tackle instead of first-round pick Lane Johnson, the fourth-overall selection in last month’s draft, with Todd Herremans inserted at right guard.

On defense, the line alternated from predominantly 3-4 looks at the start of practice to 4-3 formations mixed in toward the end. Veteran defensive lineman Trent Cole played outside linebacker on several snaps and defensive end on many others. Brandon Graham, the team’s most consistent pass rusher last season, mostly played outside linebacker on the second team.

Safety Nate Allen took more first-team reps than newcomer Kenny Phillips and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin joined the rotation of Eagles who practiced returning punts. 

Jason Kelce, coming back from knee surgery, practiced at center during positions drills but gave way to Dallas Reynolds for team drills.

What’s it mean for the long term?

Nothing, according to Kelly.

“It's May 13, so I would make that of it,” Kelly said, responding to a question about his preference for Dennis Kelly over Johnson at right tackle. “I don't think we play the Washington Redskins until sometime in September.”

This also explains why Michael Vick and Nick Foles split first-team reps nearly 50-50, although to the naked eye it seemed like Vick took plenty more starting reps than Foles did.

“He hasn't,” Kelly assured. “Someone charted them, I would imagine. He and Nick switched to different groups, so that's what we did.

“I mean, it could have been 48 to 52 [percent], but we'll count them up. Again, it's May 13. We're just trying to get reps off and trying to get film and look at it. To your original question, ‘What would I make of it?’ It's May 13 and we've got a long ways to go before we ever set a depth chart or do anything like that.”

Still, first-round picks are commonly thrown into the fire. They picked Johnson fourth overall to shore up the right side of their offensive line. It seemed unusual that Dennis Kelly would get the first crack or an ominous sign for Johnson.

 Again, too early.

“He's been here three days, so for three days he's been the best offensive tackle we've ever drafted,” Kelly quipped.

The new head coach’s first open practice greeted spectators with several sights that were staples of his fast-paced sessions at Oregon but rarely, if ever, associated with an NFL version.

Music of all genres screamed over speakers. Coaches signaled in plays with quick hand movements resembling speed sign language. In position drills, it wasn’t uncommon to see several quarterbacks throwing passes to different receivers at the same time, in the same play.

Kelly said the playbooks for Monday’s practice mirrored the ones from the pre-draft camp, with the same first-day installation of formations and plays from the first day of last month’s three-day voluntary camp. 

For Day 1, the defense executed several of its formations out of an odd front, with newcomer Isaac Sopoaga manning the middle on first team, flanked by defensive ends Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox. Cole and Connor Barwin manned outside linebacker on the first team, with DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks inside.

In the starting secondary, newcomer Bradley Fletcher started at one cornerback spot while Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes took turns on the opposite side to replace free-agent signing Cary Williams, who got married Sunday and had Kelly’s blessing to delay his arrival until next week. Allen and Patrick Chung, another newcomer, occupied the safety positions.

But the defensive fronts -- and personnel -- could change at any time.

“So I wouldn't read totally into it,” he added. “We'll play some three-down [linemen], we'll play some four-down. I know the whole last team period was all four-down, but that was scripted to be all four-down.

 It just depends on what we're working on. In that first period we don't motion, we just line up and they just line up. So there's a lot less scheme deals going on. It's more of a fundamental period for us. So it just depends.”

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