Three Things (We Think) We’ve Learned About Chip Kelly

It’s now been a little more than two months since the Eagles hired Chip Kelly as their new head coach. Here are three things we’ve learned (or think we’ve learned) in that time period:

1. Versatility is important to him.

Kelly doesn’t like one-dimensional players. Offensively, we saw that with the additions of James Casey (All-22 here) and Arrelious Benn (All-22 here). Kelly wants players who can line up in various spots and move around, based on the look of the defense.

“You really get pigeon‑holed when you have one‑dimensional players, and when you do, it makes it a little bit easier for defenses to go out there and understand what’s going to go on in certain formations,” he said after the Casey signing.

And it’s not only on offense. Kelly values versatility on ‘D’ too. Kelly likes players – specifically in the front seven – with varied skill sets. We’ve only had one media session with defensive coordinator Billy Davis, but I got the sense that disguise is going to play a big role in what the Eagles do on that side of the ball.

For that to be effective, Davis needs players up front who are capable of doing multiple things: rushing the passer, dropping back into coverage, playing the run. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga is probably the exception, but overall, I think Kelly would prefer to avoid specialists – guys who can only play the run or only rush the passer.

It will be interesting to see how the versatility factor affects the current roster. If part of the core philosophy on offense is to get to the line of scrimmage, assess the defense and adjust, then finding the right quarterback will be critical (as if it’s not critical anyway). If the signal-caller doesn’t make the right decisions pre-snap, the offense won’t work. Perhaps that’s why Kelly is giving himself multiple options with Michael Vick, Nick Foles and quite possibly another QB in April’s draft.

Defensively, versatility is a bit of a mystery with some of the current personnel. Trent Cole, for example, has been asked to line up at right defensive end in a 4-3 for his entire career. Does he possess more versatility than he’s shown on tape?

That’s going to be one of the many questions Kelly and his staff have to answer in the coming months. Identifying strengths/limitations of personnel and adjusting the scheme accordingly.

2. He values size on defense.

Howie Roseman has said many times that the Eagles are a “coach-centric” organization, meaning Kelly tells the personnel staff what he wants, and they find the right pieces for him.

But Kelly’s requests are different from those of Andy Reid and the previous regime. Kelly is specific with his measurables at each position.

“There are deal-breakers,” Roseman said back in January. “Maybe it’s at a particular position that size is a particular function that you need there, or a certain speed. I think there are limiting factors at certain positions that for some staffs are more important than others.”

Before free agency, Roseman was in no mood to divulge what those deal-breakers were. But it seems obvious that Kelly values size and length on defense, a carry-over from his days at Oregon. Take a look at the new additions: Connor Barwin (6-4, 268), Sopoaga (6-2, 330), Cary Williams (6-1, 190), Bradley Fletcher (6-0, 200), Kenny Phillips (6-2, 217) and Patrick Chung (5-11, 210).

You won’t find a single player among that group who would be described as “under-sized” for his position.

“You have to adjust to what you have,” Kelly said at the owners meetings. “No one is starting from square one and saying, ‘How do we build the perfect defense, offense, special teams?’ And you don’t have 100 first-round draft picks either, so you can say, ‘Hey I really like that guy,’ but he’s gone, so you always have to make adjustments to what you do. But we want taller, longer people because big people beat up little people.”

That quote probably indirectly addresses players on the roster like Brandon Graham and Mychal Kendricks, who might not possess the ideal length Kelly covets. But Graham was the Eagles’ best pass-rusher last year, and Kendricks has a versatile skill set, which goes back to the first point.

After the draft, we’ll probably have an even clearer picture of the specific measurables Kelly is seeking from each position. But early on, size on defense has been an emphasis.

3. He doesn’t like labels.

This one was obvious from the get-go. On the day Kelly was introduced, a reporter asked about his preference for having a mobile quarterback. You would have thought the guy insulted his grandmother.

Kelly is fond of pointing out the differences between perception and reality. For example:

* The perception is that he likes running QBs. The reality is he adjusts to personnel.

* The perception is that he likes to go for it on fourth down. The reality is he didn’t do it that often.

* The perception is that he runs an up-tempo offense. The reality is other teams ran more plays than Oregon.

And well, you get the point.

Of course, there is truth in pretty much all the perceptions I just listed, but Kelly doesn’t want to put labels on what he’s going to do with the Eagles. That’s understandable when you consider he doesn’t yet have a complete roster and hasn’t had a chance to run a single practice.

It’s not just his team though. Kelly wants to shed labels about himself too. At the Senior Bowl, a reporter asked him if it was cool to see NFL playoff teams use some of his concepts.

“If you weren’t in the room with Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne, then you stole it from somebody,” he said. “We didn’t invent this.”

There’s plenty of league-wide intrigue about Kelly and what he’s going to do in the NFL. What concepts will he bring with him from Oregon? How will he challenge conventional thinking?

There’s no stopping those questions from being asked, but Kelly would rather distance himself from the conversation.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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