(Last month, a group of reporters had the opportunity to sit down with head coach Chip Kelly for an hour-long session. The contents of that conversation have been embargoed until now. We’ll pull from that interview over the next several days as we begin our training camp previews.)
We have received this question more than perhaps any other since Chip Kelly decided to bring Michael Vick back on a one-year deal: If this is a long-term project, why invest a year in a veteran quarterback who might not be part of future plans?
Chances are Vick won’t be here much longer. Meanwhile, there are two young quarterbacks on the roster that will be relegated to the sidelines if Vick wins the job. How can you evaluate what you have in Nick Foles and/or Matt Barkley if they don’t play?
Kelly’s response to this question speaks to both his mentality and the challenge he faces during his transition from college to the pros.
“You want to talk about our players buying in? If I went in the locker room and said this is going to be a really good year for us to get ready for the following year, that’s not going to work,” he said. “No one has a mindset like that. So our decision isn’t based upon what is the future two years down the road, three years down the road. I don’t think that far.”
Really, he can’t afford to. True, he signed a lucrative five-year deal and owner Jeffrey Lurie will give him some leeway as he builds the program in his vision. It’s not about capturing the confidence of his employer — he already has that. It’s about establishing credibility with the 53 men he is in charge of leading on a daily basis.
This is not just a run-of-the-mill college coach trying to make the leap. Kelly is branded as an out-of-the-box thinker with new methods that have yet to be tested on this level. Guys are wearing sleep monitors to bed, practicing at warp speed and essentially being asked to re-think the way they have done things up until this point. Maybe the Eagles don’t need to advance to the NFC Championship Game in Year One, but there needs to be some tangible proof that Kelly’s unorthodox approach will net results.
Vick is likely seen as the best quarterback on the roster by most of his peers. Certainly the most established. How would it be if Kelly’s first move was to dismiss the team’s best QB? What if the Foles or Barkley experience fell flat on its face? Where would the confidence level in the new coach be then?
“My job is to win right now. How do you think I’d be received in Philly if I told them we were going to write this year off?” Kelly asked. “Those people that are waving to me on the streets right now? That ain’t going to happen. But that’s never been my mentality either. We’re not writing anything off. We’re going out there to compete and see how it falls.”
Kelly is a firm believer in position battles. He makes the players earn their starting jobs in practice and during the preseason. From his vantage point, it makes perfect sense to have Vick as part of the quarterback competition. Win or lose, the players will know that Kelly made the right call. In theory, at least.
“Everywhere I’ve been it’s played itself out on the field. Does that mean it’s going to happen here? I don’t know,” said Kelly. “But I’ve never been in a situation where we’ve had to make a decision and it’s like 50-50, pick it out of a hat. Somebody over the course of time has stepped up and has ‘won the battle.’ That’s what you’re hoping to have happen again here, and hopefully it’s evident to everybody, like ‘There’s no question that it’s this guy because his game stepped up.’”
WHAT YOU MISSED
Who has Pro Bowl promise under Kelly? That and more in the latest Twitter Mailbag.
Applying “Smart Football” Concepts to the Eagles.
Can the Eagles bounce back and make the playoffs in 2013?
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Andrew Kulp on what to expect from rookie tight end Zach Ertz.
Don’t go overboard. If all goes according to plan, Ertz could eventually develop into one of the most dangerous weapons on the team, but there is reason to believe he could be brought along slowly as a rookie.
For one, as was already touched on, Ertz isn’t supposed to be much of a blocker. That’s no small detail, as blocking is typically a fairly large part of the job description for most tight ends. Guys can get away with being more receiver-inclined when they’re putting up big numbers, but Ertz is starting from the bottom, so he’ll likely have to improve that aspect of his game to earn the trust of the coaching staff.
Donovan McNabb thinks Foles might be best suited to run Kelly’s system. He had the following to say on NFL Network:
“When you’re a quarterback it’s important that you protect the football. And when you have a guy like Michael Vick, we know about his athletic ability but he has an ability to turn the ball over entirely too much. Nick Foles is kind of a future guy that you can work on. In the offense that Oregon ran, it might be better suited for a guy like Nick Foles because you don’t have to be so mobile, just get the ball out of your hands and make plays for the receivers.
More from our conversation with Kelly. Ten days until rookies report.