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Todd Lyght remembers the first University of Oregon practice he ever saw. It was just a couple years ago, in the fall of 2011, and he couldn’t believe what he was seeing when he got his first glimpse of the Chip Kelly offense at work.
“Chip is very guarded about practice, and until I was officially on the staff, I never got to watch a practice at Oregon,” Lyght said.
“I’ll never forget my first time watching a team period once I was on the staff. Chip ran I believe it was 32 plays in a 10-minute period, and I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve been around the game a long time. It’s pretty amazing.”
Lyght knows a little bit about high-powered offenses. He was a Pro Bowl cornerback on the Rams during the Greatest Show on Turf Era, the days of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
These days, Lyght is assistant defensive backs coach with the Eagles, and who better to discuss the potential of Kelly’s offense than a guy who spent several years practicing against maybe the most explosive offense in NFL history.
“It’s very difficult to defend this offense, because it’s multiple in formations and the way they attack the entire field,” said Lyght, an all-pro during the Rams’ 1999 Super Bowl season.
“Coach Kelly does a great job of keeping tremendous pressure on the defense with multiple sets and spreading the ball around, and anybody at any given time can have the opportunity to make a big play.
“That’s the entire key. You pretty much have to defend the entire field. You can’t really focus on one or two players because then the back side of the formation will get exploited. It’s not a situation where you can roll the field and leave the back side exposed, because Coach Kelly will find a way to exploit that.
“It’s very difficult. The best way to do it is to have a lot of good players on defense.”
Lyght’s main priority with the Eagles isn’t figuring out how to stop Kelly’s offense, it’s helping to build a secondary that’s able to stop Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III and Eli Manning.
But Lyght in his two years in Eugene saw enough of Kelly’s system operating at a high level to have a good sense of how teams tried to stop it … and why that generally failed.
“What I noticed at Oregon watching Coach Kelly and the way he ran the offense, defensively, when guys get tired, they start making mistakes, they start to make mental errors, so what coaches would do sometimes would be to kind of get very basic with their defensive calls and maybe to run one, two or three defenses to avoid mental mistakes.”
“And if you do that and become simplified, then it becomes easy for the offense to exploit, because they know exactly what you’re doing. Conversely, if you run multiple fronts, if you run a lot of blitz packages, then you’re opening yourself up to big plays because you’re leaving points of emphasis on the field wide open.”
After captaining Notre Dame in the late 1980s, Lyght had 37 interceptions in 12 NFL seasons, and during the seven-year span from 1995 through 2001, his 31 INTs were seventh-most in the league.
His first eight years with the Rams – in Los Angeles and St. Louis – the franchise averaged five wins per year. But in 1999, they went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl under former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil, and a year later they went 10-6 and reached the playoffs again under Mike Martz. Those two teams scored 526 and 540 points, and no team in NFL history had scored more points in a two-year span at that time.
And Lyght was there the whole time, trying to stop it.
“Coach Vermeil did a great job of making sure we competed at a high level at practice and therefore it would be easy for us to compete in games,” said Lyght, who left for the Lions after the 2000 season and wasn’t on the 2001 Rams that beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.
“There was a very high level of competition among the defensive backs and linebackers and the running backs and wide receivers, and we really used to get after each other, and it was great as far as our preparation and getting ready for the games.
“We used to go so hard in practice that the games were easy, and I think Coach Kelly wants to emulate that. We want to go very hard in practice and put as much pressure on our players as possible so the games on Sunday will be slow and will be easy for them, and I think the players have done a tremendous job picking up all the information that we’re giving them.
“Defensively, we’ve gone at a really fast pace, thrown a lot of information at them, and the players are doing a great job absorbing all that information and retaining it.”
Even though most teams the Eagles’ defense will face won’t be running anything resembling Kelly’s offense, Lyght believes all the work this group gets against Kelly’s Warp-Drive scheme – whether it’s on scout team or in periods where it’s 1s vs. 1s – will pay huge dividends.
“First and foremost, it helps the conditioning, but it also helps the thought process of being able to think quickly,” he said. “It forces you to analyze a formation, analyze a play, anticipate motions and shifts and be able to make the adjustments very fast.
“We want to be a very smart, intelligent football team with a high IQ that’s also very tough. Not just physically tough but mentally tough, and I think that being able to think really fast on your feet makes you a mentally tough team. And that’s going to help us win ballgames down the road.”