Philadelphia Eagles' Draft Gives Glimpse of Chip Kelly's Offense

By Matt Lombardo

The Philadelphia Eagles offense was decimated by a multifaceted assault last season.

Of course injuries besieged the offense, beginning along the offensive line before the 2012 season began. Jason Peters twice ruptured his ACL in the offseason and eventually Evan Mathis stood as the lone lineman not to suffer a season-ending knee injury. Later, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek all missed significant stretches of a 4-12 season that fell woefully short of expectations.

Then, there was the stagnation that grew through the organization like a vine during what turned out to be the final season of Andy Reid’s 14-year tenure as head coach.

Needless to say, injecting Chip Kelly and his up-tempo offense along with custom blended smoothies for every player after practice and a commitment to implementing sports science at every level from sleep studies to heart monitors at practice to nutrition, it is certainly a new business as usual at One Novacare Way.

No unit on this team typifies that more than the offense.

One of the many questions facing Kelly and the Eagles as the draft neared was, what exactly will this team’s approach be to the draft be?

After using three of the team’s first four selections in the draft on the offensive side of the ball, it’s not hard to find Kelly’s fingerprints on the Birds’ picks.

It’s true, perhaps the biggest addition to this offense is Peters’ return to health. However, that didn’t stop the Eagles from pulling the trigger on making Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson the fourth overall choice in the draft. Johnson will start immediately at right tackle and create a bookend with Peters forming, when healthy, one of the premier offensive lines in the league.

Johnson is perhaps the most athletic offensive tackle in a class that saw Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel go off the board back to back to start the draft. Choosing the him allows Todd Herremans to slide back inside to right guard, from tackle, eradicating the organizational mistake of whiffing on Danny Watkins in the first round of the 2011 draft and taking some pressure off of Herremans’ surgically repaired foot and ankle.

By choosing Johnson, Kelly shored up an offensive line that will be pivotal to the gap control that’s necessary up front in his offense.

By the time the Eagles went on the clock in the second round, Kelly was far from done bolstering his weapons on offense. Stanford’s Zach Ertz was widely considered the second-best tight end on most draft boards across the league, and it’s little surprise that Kelly mined the Pac-12 for a player who spent his collegiate career racking up 1,434 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in his three seasons at Stanford.

After adding James Casey in free agency as a hybrid tight end/H-back, the possibilities are nearly endless for Kelly to trot out any combination of McCoy, Casey, Ertz, Celek, Jackson and Maclin at the same time, creating mismatches all over the field.

While it’s expected that the Eagles running game will see a renaissance of sorts under Kelly, the pure speed and sure-handedness of the team’s newest weapons paint the picture of an offense capable of keeping defensive coordinators up many late nights devising coverage schemes to slow the Birds’ options.

Then there’s the most discussed fourth round draft pick in recent memory: Matt Barkley.

In Barkley, the Eagles added a quarterback who rounded out his four-year career at USC with a 64 percent completion percentage and thrived in a pro style, west coast type of system. Two of Barkley’s biggest strengths are his accuracy and ability to make quick decisions, which could be enough to overcome his suspect arm strength, especially in Kelly’s system.

Clearly, this draft added weapons that not only solidify the offensive line but playmakers that will stretch defenses thin in the passing game, giving whoever is under center plenty of weapons and versatility to move the football down the field effectively by spreading it around and taking what the defense allows after controlling the line of scrimmage with an elite offensive line.

The Eagles offense may have been decimated before the season began a year ago, but after the draft and several months under Kelly’s watchful eye, it’s clear that this is a rejuvenated and reinforced unit going into this season.

Matt Lombardo is also an on-air personality on 97.5 FM The Fanatic in Philadelphia. Join the conversation and follow Matt on Twitter

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