The blaring music played during practice stopped and overcast skies were hovering above the practice fields of the Novacare Complex Thursday afternoon, as Chip Kelly assessed his team with reporters one final time prior to training camp opening in South Philadelphia on July 22.
The clouds overhead may as well be the metaphor for what this franchise hopes to punch through beginning this season, following a disastrous 4-20 record in the past two seasons under former head coach Andy Reid.
After three days of minicamp and a month of OTAs, it appears that Kelly is pleased with the groundwork of his program that had been laid in such a short period of time.
“I feel like we’ve improved every day out here,” Kelly said of his team’s progress this spring. “There are a lot of new things for us, for everything they put in, schemes, personnel, and going through all the different scenarios. So you’ve got to put them in, and coach them on tape. My expectations were that they improve every day, and I feel like they’ve improved every day.”
Kelly explained Thursday that roughly two thirds of the offensive playbook had been installed this spring, but that doesn’t mean his players can expect a six week vacation leading up to camp.
“They have a program,” Kelly said. “Put together by our strength and conditioning coaches for what they can and can’t do. By league rules, it’s not like we can say, ‘Let’s meet at these certain times.’ They can lift here, but we can’t have any instruction with them or anything like that. They’re on their own to work out.”
Additionally, for the head coach, there are plenty of decisions to be made as he likely spends every day during that time period obsessing over practice film and meeting with coaches. Not the least of which is determining a starting quarterback.
It’s no secret that Nick Foles and Michael Vick are embroiled in a full fledged competition for the starting job, something the second-year Foles seems to relish.
“The competition doesn’t bother me,” Foles said. “You don’t think about it, worrying about it doesn’t do us any good. We have an opportunity to play in the NFL right now and when you’re out there playing it doesn’t matter if you are the first, second, or third quarterback, you go out and play hard to the best of your ability.”
Beyond the quarterback position, though, Kelly must, along with defensive coordinator Bill Davis Jr., make such decisions as who will start at nose tackle in a 3-4, how much of a 4-3 front will be used and just who will be this team’s linebacker corps when the regular season kicks off?
Kelly, though, appears in no rush to make any of those decisions.
“We have an understanding of their athletic ability and how they run,” Kelly pointed out. “But there are still a lot of things to be evaluated when you put the pads on. It’s still a physical game. A lot of guys look great in shorts and T‑shirts, then they disappear when you put the pads on. So we have an evaluation in terms of athletic ability. How fast some guys are. Their ability to change direction and things like that. But until we get the pads on, we can’t tell.”
Overall, despite the downtime, Kelly’s staff and the players will be busy working behind the scenes in preparation for the season, despite not being allowed to reconvene until training camp under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“I expect them to be professional and prepare like this is their year,” Kelly said. ”And that’s what I think they expect of themselves. So this is your job and this is what you lived your whole life to do: play in the NFL. Now you have an opportunity. So there is a responsibility that goes with that. So it’s, I believe, a privilege to play in this league, and with that privilege goes responsibility. So I expect our guys to work their tails off.”
Kelly hopes that by the time the music blares again in the last week of July, the metaphorical clouds above this franchise will lift with the dawn of a new 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.
* All quotes obtained first hand