When Bob Bicknell found he out he’d be interviewing for a job on the New York Jets’ coaching staff, there was one person he knew could help him prepare: Chip Kelly.
This was back in 2006. Bicknell’s coaching experience up to that point had been with Boston University and NFL Europe. While at BU, he got to know Kelly, who was then coaching at New Hampshire, and the two kept up a relationship.
“As soon as I knew I was getting the interview, I said, ‘Alright, I’ve got to talk to Coach Kelly,’ ” Bicknell explained. “So I got in my car, I drove up and I sat with him for the whole day just to get ready for that interview. Now, it’d be a wonderful story if I got the job. But I did get the job a year later. It wasn’t that exact time.”
Bicknell was passed over for the Jets’ tight-ends coach opening and ended up landing a job on Al Golden’s staff at Temple. A year later, when Herm Edwards got the Kansas City Chiefs job, he finally hired Bicknell.
He’s been in the league ever since, having spent three years in Kansas City (assistant offensive line coach, offensive line coach, tight ends coach) and three more in Buffalo (tight ends coach, wide receivers coach).
He stayed in touch with Kelly throughout his various stops.
“It just turned into this relationship where it seemed anything I had a question about, anything I wanted to know offensively, every time I called him, it made sense,” Bicknell said.
Now, the Eagles’ new wide receivers coach is tasked with helping DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and company learn new concepts and adapt to new roles.
Jackson talked about one of the concepts last week: option routes. The idea is for the wide receiver to adjust on the fly, depending on the look of the defense.
“Basically, an option route where he can go in or out based on coverage, or sit in a zone, those kinds of things,” Bicknell explained. “He has a place he has to be in every route concept, and he knows where that is. I think we probably give him some leeway and he uses his imagination to get in certain spots at certain times the way he can do it. So that’s basically what it is.”
In other words, the concept adds a bit of improvisation to the equation. On the surface, that makes sense. Why run a route that plays into the hands of the defense just because that’s what the call is?
On the other hand, such adjustments require that the quarterback and the wide receiver are on the same page. If they’re not, the result could be sacks, turnovers and overall disaster.
“Those routes, you try and get as many reps as you can,” Bicknell said. “You get them as many times in that situation so that we know what we’re telling them, and they know what we’re telling them. And then they might do it however they do it, but they get on that same page where they understand the play and they’re all able to work it out together.”
The way the receivers get their calls before the snap is different too. As soon as the previous play is over, they’re looking to the sidelines for hand signals. There may be adjustments made by the quarterback, but for the most part, the wide receivers get the information they need – formation, call, routes, etc. – based on the hand signals.
Bicknell said teams around the league are trying to keep their calls concise to avoid confusion and allow for tempo.
“Some places try to tell every single player on the field what they’ve got, and that’s why you see guys have that hour-long play-call,” he explained. “Everybody says, ‘Wow, they’re so smart.’ Well, when it comes right down to it, what you want to try to do is condense that and have a little bit more of a concept to it. So it’s just a different way of teaching.
“You’re telling them the same thing. You’re just not telling them as much. They’re learning a little bit more. When you watch guys on TV and they say all those things, all they’re doing is telling them what every receiver has. That’s just another way of doing it.”
Bicknell gets three teach periods per practice where it’s just him and the wide receivers. The music shuts off and the pace slows down.
“We do one that we talk about the run game and some of the blocking that we have,” he said. “Just try to talk about how they’ll have different looks.
“And then we do one of those teach periods usually every day is routes. Just the routes that really are going to be coming up that might be out of a different formation, a little bit tighter, what coverages, what the look might be, the three looks that we might see and how we want to handle it, those kinds of things. But that’s basically how they go. And sometimes Pat [Shurmur] does one [teach period] with the full offense.”
There’s still plenty of work to be done, and the pads aren’t on yet, but Bicknell credited former wide receivers coach David Culley for his work in helping the players understand coverages and defenses.
“Very impressed,” he said. “Really, all of them have picked up this offense as well as we can imagine right now.”