The Philadelphia Eagles’ 2014 training camp is just around the corner, and this is the time when reporters pepper coaches and players with empty, open-ended questions. However, among this sea of probes, a hidden gem of a soundbite arose. When asked about last year’s 10-6 record, head coach Chip Kelly said that last season was “just ok.” The two words were simple, yet highly effective.
Kelly has clearly learned how Philly fans think, and knows what they like to hear. In a rugged and passionate sports town like Philadelphia, a worst-to-first season can be forgotten in a heartbeat if it doesn’t produce a Lombardi trophy. Kelly has slowly and steadily revealed his coaching colors this offseason. It began with the release of DeSean Jackson, and has continued ever since.
Kelly flirted with the NFL Coach of the Year award by leading a six-game improvement in his first year, and only plans on improving that mark. After their 1-3 start a year removed from their worst regular season record since 1999, the Eagles ended their year a walk-off field goal away from the NFC divisional round.
As far as the ground game is concerned, Kelly utilized the ability of his star running back LeSean McCoy, who was the NFL’s top rusher in 2014. Collectively, the Eagles led the league in rushing yards per game. This season, McCoy will have a new running mate in the backfield in Darren Sproles. He resonates with Kelly’s system, since he is a hybrid piece that can play running back or wide receiver.
Aerially, Nick Foles, an all-but-forgotten backup at the season’s start, finished with the best touchdown-interception ratio in NFL history at 27:2. Kelly helped him find his niche, despite being a stationary, immobile quarterback in a fast-paced offense. Foles mentioned how Kelly uses a secret teamwork formula that incorporates family values, and how he enjoys playing for him.
“How he treats the players, it goes back to how you treat people how you’d want to be treated,” Foles said in an interview with the Delco Times. “He treats everybody with respect. He wants the best for his players. It’s like a family here and he wants the best for his players, so he gives us the opportunity to do stuff to give us the best opportunity on the field.”
The former Oregon coach has plans to take his team to new heights in 2014. Last season was an indoctrination. Players were sucking wind and bumping into each other in their first year adjusting to a much more complex offense. After just one year, they are running around 30 snaps in team drills, which are 12 more than they could run last year. He already has his offense working at a new gear that most could only dream of. In offensive workouts, the birds’ offense is reeling off plays in a scintillating 15 seconds or less. This may seem astounding to the untrained fan, but it is expected when you have a fast-break football pundit like Kelly at the helm.
“The game of football is four-to-six-second bursts,” he said. “I think we’re trying to mimic it in terms of how we do things.”
Along with his on-the field demeanor, Kelly also manifested a very unconventional approach to his offseason checklist. He drafted a slew of under-the-radar players in the draft. They were taken not just for their draft grades, but their versatility and vast skill set. First-round pick Marcus Smith can play on his feet or in a three-point stance, and has the speed to cover slot receivers if required. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews is the most intriguing prospect. Many are already declaring him as the rookie of the year despite not even playing a snap yet. Metaphorically speaking, the 6-3 Matthews has a large pair of shoes to fill with the aforementioned Jackson now playing for the Washington Redskins.
Although it may seem hard to understand what goes on between Kelly’s temples, all that matters is that it works, and is opening a new era of success in a town that desperately needs someone to root for. Every journey begins with a single step, and a six-game turnaround is a giant step. With a complacency-free mindset, this year’s Eagles may become more than “just ok” in 2014.