PHILADELPHIA — Let’s be clear about one thing — Chip Kelly isn’t simply replicating everything he did at the University of Oregon here with the Eagles.
He’s dealing with adults now, not college kids. He’s facing the top 1 percent of football players at the NFL level, so his offensive schemes won’t work as easily as they did against soft Pac-12 defenses, and he’ll probably have to flip-flop his run-pass ratio.
Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, who played for Kelly at Oregon, already sees major differences between Kelly’s program with the Ducks and the one he’s running as the Eagles’ first-year coach.
“For one, they huddle,” Blount said after Wednesday’s joint practice, the second of the week.
“It’s a lot different than what it was at Oregon. Some of the drills looked familiar, but I mean, a lot of teams aren’t going to show what they’re really going to do in the preseason.”
But the Eagles didn’t hire Kelly to be Oregon East. They hired Kelly, 49, because of his proven track record of unconventional thinking and incredible success — a 46-7 record and four BCS bowl games in four years at Oregon. In the past three years, his offenses finished first, second, and first in the nation in touchdowns.
“I have so much respect for Chip and what he’s done,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has been friends with Kelly since Kelly’s days as an offensive guru at the University of New Hampshire (1999-2006). “He’s a very innovative, creative guy. He’s got a great mind, he’s smart and I think he’ll take advantage of whatever resources he can.”
When it comes to X’s and O’s, the Eagles may have hired the one man who can match wits with Belichick. The Patriots set an NFL record last year with 1,191 offensive plays, or 74.4 per game, with their fast-paced, no-huddle attack. Kelly’s offenses at Oregon the last three years averaged 81, 78, and 78 plays per game
But Kelly undoubtedly will have to change his playcalling style in the pass-happy NFL. Kelly never called fewer than 600 rushes or more than 400 passes in his four years at Oregon. The Ducks always finished in the top five in rushing offense, but middle of the pack in passing offense.
But only three NFL teams — the 49ers, Redskins, Seahawks — called more rushing plays than passes in 2012. The Patriots, last year’s top offense at 34.8 points per game, called 668 passes compared with 523 runs.
“Of course, what he did at Oregon, that was one thing,” Belichick said. “We’ll see how it all plays out here.”
The Eagles have eschewed the offensive huddle and pushed the tempo during practices this summer, but spent much of the last two days practicing their slow-down, traditional huddle offense as well.
“I don’t even know if we know what to expect from this offense,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said.
But the aesthetic changes Kelly has brought to the Eagles’ practice facility, after 14 years of doing things Andy Reid’s way, have been enlightening, to say the least.
For one, the Eagles are now a lot healthier. There’s no more Taco Tuesday inside the team cafeteria. Fat Boy Friday, in which players gorged on fast food after their weekly weigh-in, is history, as well.
Instead, players are greeted after practice each day with a fruit smoothie specifically tailored to their diet. The players wear GPS tracking systems on their shoulder pads to track their agility, force, and acceleration throughout practice. The weight room underwent $1 million in improvements this summer, and new smart TVs have been installed throughout the building.
Kelly also hired a “sports science coordinator” in Shaun Huls, who most recently served as the head strength and conditioning coach and combatives coordinator for Navy Special Warfare.
“The whole thing is designed to make guys better individually, and then hopefully it will make the team better overall,” Kelce said.
That part of the program — the nutritional kick — is nothing new, Blount said.
“He’s very conscious of what’s going on around the whole building,” Blount said. “They’re not going to have a lot of injuries if they listen to him.”
Of course, Kelly can only work so much magic. No amount of health food was going to prevent the torn ACLs already suffered by receivers Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn.
And some of the Eagles were naturally skeptical of Kelly’s methods when the offseason program began in April.
“Some guys probably were,” Kelce said. “But as soon as we got to hear him speak and deal with his philosophies, not just on the field but off the field in the weight room and stuff, we were all excited.”
The last two days with the Patriots notwithstanding, the pace of Kelly’s practices has been much faster than anything done under Reid since 1999. There’s a lot less time spent between plays — a lot less hands-on coaching on the field — and a lot more coaching done in the film room afterwards. Kelly has five quarterbacks in camp, and has all five performing at the same time during some drills.
“It’s been a lot of change,” Kelce added, “and any time something’s been one way for 10-plus years and you’re coming forth with a new head coach, it’s really going to probably be pretty radical.”
Radical change is what the Eagles needed, though, after growing stale under Reid and compiling a 4-12 record last year.
Then again, the NFL has seen many supposed “offensive gurus” come from college to revolutionize offensive football, only to fall flat once they realized their schemes don’t work as well against the pros. Ask Steve Spurrier how well that worked out in Washington.
The Eagles hope, though, that Kelly is a top-notch head coach, not just an X’s and O’s guy.
“I’ve seen his teams play for a long time at Oregon, and they’ve been exceptional,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “So I’m sure it will be no different.”