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When the puzzle is complete and the pieces are comfortably in place, Jason Kelce believes the Chip Kelly-designed offense will function harmoniously and efficiently.
That’s what fans and media have anticipated since the Eagles hired the former Oregon head coach whose no-huddle, spread offenses in college shattered records and emerged as one of the country’s most prolific attacks.
But the Eagles have several more Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and several weeks of training camp ahead to hammer down the intricate details and morph into a finish product, and Kelce is expected to be at the nucleus of the attack.
The third-year center, still rehabbing from a major knee injury that ended his 2012 season after two games and required ligament surgery, has only participated in small portions of practices this spring.
When the offense takes the field for 7-on-7 drills or full-team drills, Kelce works with the trainer, but change is on the horizon. On Tuesday, Kelce said he received medical clearance to ratchet up his workload in the next camp (June 4-6) and he expects to participate in all practices in training camp.
“I’ll be cleared the day before training camp,” Kelce said. “The next minicamp, I just got cleared by the docs. I’ll be doing two or three plays every period and 11-on-11 with the defense out there. So I’m still on track yet.”
When he returns, Kelce will assume the larger role he inherited last season after an impressive rookie year in which he started all 16 games as a sixth-round rookie.
Kelce had taken on the responsibility of calling out blitzes and having the offensive line synchronized, alleviating the burden from quarterback Michael Vick. But the Week 2 knee injury against the Ravens that ended his season forced first-year lineman Dallas Reynolds into his first NFL action, and the offensive line, further ravaged by injuries throughout the season, endured one catastrophic breakdown after another.
Kelce played in a fast-paced attack at Cincinnati under then-coach Brian Kelly, who last year led Notre Dame to the BCS Championship game, but the hand signals that relay the play calls for Chip Kelly’s hurry-up attack are an entirely new concept to Kelce.
Kelce provided more insight into how Chip Kelly’s offense should function when all 11 players are in sync.
“[The defenses] are going to have to do different things with their personnel, obviously, because you’re not going to be able to get into those specifically designed packages with specific personnel,” Kelce said.
“If you’re in nickel, you’ll have to stay in nickel because we’re going too fast for you to get out of that. I think defenses are probably going to do either: one, blitz us more, or two, play man-to-man and just try to play it safe. There are a few different routes to go.”
With the offense moving at warp speed, the opposing defense will have to line up faster, which Kelce said should give the offense an advantage in the cat-and-mouse game played at scrimmage.
“The good thing is, the defense is going to have to show their hand a lot sooner,” he said, “but you’re also going to have to know that sometimes the call is gonna be wrong just because you’re trying to push that tempo and push the defense into a difficult situation. So sometimes they’re going to get us on a blitz and then the quarterback has got to see it and we have to go from there. Overall, it’s really just trying to get the defense on their heels and show the blitz …”
Kelce’s optimism was tempered by his admission that an entire offense can’t be mastered in a finger snap. Even with several weeks of spring camps and training camp, it’s unrealistic to expect that all 11 players and the reserves will function as one by the Sept. 13 season opener.
Not only is the playbook entirely new, but the offensive coaching staff has just two holdovers from the Andy Reid regime and Kelly is far from deciding upon a starting quarterback.
“That’s the biggest thing. If we’re all going to be wrong, we’ve got to be wrong [with] 11 people on the same page and then have the quarterback use his hot read to beat the blitz that we didn’t pick up,” Kelce explained. “And then there will be times where we can slow it down and force [the defense] to show to their hand because they think we’re going into fast tempo and then we’ll know we’re going to be right.
“So the biggest thing, and this is the reason with the hand signals and everything else we’re doing, is we want all 11 players on the same page, because when everyone is doing the same thing it tends to work out better.”
Chip Kelly is Kelce’s fifth different head coach in the past seven years. He learned under three different head coaches at Cincinnati and was drafted by Reid.
Kelce sees glimpses of Brian Kelly in Chip Kelly, which made it easier for him to buy into the new regime, which is radically different than the Reid Administration. The Eagles interviewed Brian Kelly for their head coaching vacancy shortly after meeting with Chip Kelly, who had initially spurned the team’s offer.
The similarity, Kelce said, is the detailed manner in which both head coaches introduced their concepts and philosophies.
“I think everyone has bought in,” Kelce said. “The biggest thing is, whenever there is change the initial response is to kind of fight it. ‘We did it this way so long.’ Your initial thing is resistance. But the good thing with Chip and the good thing that Brian Kelly did in Cincinnati is that everything they describe to you there is reason why they do it. There is a science behind it. It’s explained to you.
“It’s not like they’re just saying, ‘We do this because that’s the way we’ve done it. We do this because studies show that it works.’ Whenever there is data and research and things backing what they’re telling you, it’s a lot easier to buy.”