So far, Chip Kelly shows he's willing to adapt to NFL

So far, Chip Kelly shows he's willing to adapt to NFL

May 1, 2013, 8:00 am
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Draft Pick Jerseys

The Eagles on Wednesday announced the jersey numbers for their 2013 draft picks:

T Lane Johnson: 65
TE Zach Ertz: 86
DT Bennie Logan: 96
QB Matt Barkley: 2
S Earl Wolff: 28
DE Joe Kruger: 73
CB Jordan Poyer: 33
DE David King: 78

My initial reaction when the Eagles hired Chip Kelly was a simple one.

“This is not going to work.”

I thought he was a madman.

I thought Kelly was a tremendous recruiter who knew one way to play football -- by recruiting as many fast guys as possible, by running a novelty offense that would prove fundamentally unsound in the NFL, by ignoring defense because he could afford to, and by stretching the rules right to their limit … and occasionally beyond the limit.

Yeah, I wanted Gus Bradley. I loved his old-school defensive mind. I loved the way he motivated his players. I loved that his teams played tough and hard-nosed. All the stuff the Eagles didn’t do during the last couple years of the Andy Reid Era.

And those first couple weeks after Kelly was hired, when everybody I talked to in the Eagles organization tried to convince me that the perception of Kelly and the reality were polar opposites, I remained skeptical.

We all knew that what Kelly ran in Eugene wasn’t going to work in the NFL. Anybody who pays attention to pro football knows that gadgetry and novelty just can’t be successful over a sustained period of time in the NFL. Has anybody seen the Wildcat lately? There’s a reason Tim Tebow doesn’t have a job.

So I was afraid Kelly would come in and try to revolutionize the National Football League by trying to shoe-horn his system into a league where it won’t work. Where it can’t work.

I feared Michael Vick. I feared Geno Smith. I feared Dennis Dixon. I feared a pure read-option attack that would put quarterbacks at tremendous risk, place great stress on defenses and ultimately leave the roster in shambles for whatever coach replaced Kelly in 2015.

I expected the worst.

I think a lot of people did.

Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman kept insisting that all the preconceived notions about Kelly were wrong. He was actually just a very smart, very successful coach who’s always been able to tailor his schemes to his personnel and to the opponent.

But it wasn’t until Kelly and Roseman actually began assembling a football team that I really started to think that, hmm, maybe they have a plan that can work on this level.

First was the staff. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is a bright coach but pretty down-the-middle. Hardly the guy you’d hire if you were going to try to reinvent the game. Quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor learned under men like Dan Reeves, Joe Gibbs and Mike Holmgren. Hardly the pedigree you’d look for if you were going to turn conventional wisdom upside down. Running backs coach Duce Staley? Every football fan in Philly knows what he stands for.

Then came the decision to keep Nick Foles. Foles is a lot of things. Big, smart, tough, decisive. But he’s no Randall back there. Kelly’s insistence that Foles would get a fair chance to win the starting quarterback job was just more evidence that he wasn’t going Single Wing on us.

Then came free agency and a focus on trying to rebuild a pathetic defense. I’m not sure any of those guys -- Connor Barwin, Patrick Chung, Cary Williams, Kenny Phillips, et al -- is going to make a huge impact, but at least the approach made sense: Veteran guys with cap-friendly deals who could presumably fill in for a year or two until the Eagles could restock the roster with capable draft picks.

And then a smart draft with no sign of Smith or E.J. Manuel. Just a focus on tough, solid football players from big schools and big conferences.

Heck, the Eagles even picked more defensive players than offensive players over the weekend. Imagine that.

And then the clincher was Matt Barkley. This is a pure West Coast quarterback, smart and accurate and slow afoot. The addition of the former USC star was the strongest indication yet that Kelly might have some innovative ideas about offense and how to run a lot of plays in a short amount of time and rev things up to a feverish pace that defenses just can’t keep up with, but all he’s ultimately looking for is guys who can play football at a high level.

Hey, honestly, I’m still not convinced this will all work. Running a play every 12 seconds? What happens if you go three-and-out a few times in a row? How is the defense supposed to run back out there after 48 seconds and stop Eli Manning, Tony Romo or RG3?

But it’s now evident that Kelly understood all along that he needs to make some very significant adjustments in the NFL to what he did in college. He knows what he did at Oregon won’t work here, and he understands the NFL game -- the schemes, the personnel, the history -- far better than I imagined.

When you get past the rap music blasting during practice and the custom smoothies for each player in the hallway and the 12 hours of sleep the players are supposed to get (yeah, sure) and all the other quirks, the reality is that Kelly really does believe that football games are won at the line of scrimmage, and they’re won with blocking and tackling and a focus on the fundamentals, and they’re won with big, tough, mean football players.

And that’s not trickery. That’s not gadgetry. It’s exactly the mentality this team needs to get back to.