Understanding Chip Kelly’s Approach To Defense

0V3J8539Damion Square is accustomed to feeling the heat on the back of his neck.

He comes from Alabama, a program run by some guy named Nick Saban, whose roots are deeply planted on the defensive side of the ball. That is his domain. With Chip Kelly, it’s the complete opposite.

“The intensity is different because you’ve got the head guy on your field at all times,” said the rookie. “It doesn’t mean I practice in any different way but it’s a whole other pressure when you have your head coach standing over your shoulder every play. Coach Kelly, he makes a trip over there every once in a while to see if guys are buying in.”

That matches up with what we have seen at practice. If you’re looking for Kelly, it’s a safe bet that you’ll find him with the offense. (Unless it’s a special teams period, in which case he stands with the returners.) He may travel over to the defensive side from time-to-time but it’s obvious where most of his attention goes during practice sessions.

The pattern appears to hold true for meetings as well. Where Kelly is in attendance for every special teams meeting, according to Dave Fipp, the impression  that we got from defensive players is that he will pop into their positional meetings on occasion.

“It’s pretty much like, ‘I hired these guys to do stuff that I’m not strong at.’ So that’s what he’s doing: letting them coach and do what they do because he has trust in them,” said Brandon Graham. “That’s what any coach should do: hire somebody to do their job.”

Kelly has made it known that he will not micromanage Billy Davis and his defense, particularly on game day. And we have seen signs of that  laissez faire approach through his interaction with reporters. He indicated prior to the preseason opener against the Patriots, for instance,  that Brandon Boykin would start outside. Instead, Curtis Marsh got the call.

“I was wrong,” was Kelly’s reply afterwards.

Asked on Tuesday who would start at safety this Thursday against the Jets, Kelly responded: “That’s a good question.  I haven’t ‑‑ we haven’t sat down and finalized that.”

For answers about the day-to-day workings on defense, it’s best to ask Davis directly.

But it would be a mistake to suggest that Kelly isn’t plugged into that side of the operation.

“I meet with Billy.  I watch all the practice tape,” he said. “I’m more involved in the offensive side of the ball from a practice standpoint with those guys, but I watch all the tape from a film standpoint and meet with the staff and talk to those guys constantly on a day‑to‑day basis.”

Are you involved with the game-planning?

“Yeah, we meet and go over what their game plan is and how they are going to approach things, pick each other’s brains.”

Big picture, the defense is being built largely in Kelly’s vision. It is no coincidence that Davis has a background in traditional and hybrid 3-4 defenses. Kelly believes his defensive coordinator can both transition this team to a two-gap 3-4 and find a scheme solution for the here-and-now while the unit is under construction.

Casey Matthews sees a lot of similarities between the defense he is in now and the one he played in at Oregon.

“It’s pretty much the same. A lot of the same terminology,” he said. “In OTAs when we first started to do the meetings it started to come back pretty quick. It’s a little different. You can tell with Chip and Coach Azz [assistant head coach/defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro] at Oregon, they definitely tuned it up the couple years that I was gone.”

In other words, this defense has Kelly’s fingerprints all over it. He just doesn’t hold it in a permanent grip.

“Chip and I meet at least once a day.  He’s got a great understanding of what we’re doing defensively,” said Davis.  “We spent a lot of time in the offseason talking about building and what structure he likes and what structure I like.  At the end of the day, what Chip wants, I will give him.  We talk often.  He’s very easy to work with and understand.  A very clear communicator.  You know exactly where he stands and what he wants and you give it to him.  So far, the real tests haven’t come yet.  The real games, when they start coming, we’ll collectively solve problems.”

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  • Adam

    Don’t underestimate the role of Assistant coach Azzinaro. He’s Chip’s consigliere when it comes to defense. Chip and Jerry are on the same wave length in regards to their vision for the team, and Jerry will act for Chip when it comes to the defensive side of the ball.

    • “He’s Chip’s consigliere…”

      That made me chuckle…

      • Bob A

        He’ll come in handy when Chip wants to rub somebody out.

        • Adam

          I wouldn’t wanna run into him in a a dark alley

          • Eagles4Life

            MORE VIOLENCE

          • hokieduck

            Looks like he and Chip def did not forget to bring the cannoli!

      • A Roy

        Sort of a capo coach di tutti capi coach

      • hawaiieaglesfan

        Wot? Sonny or Fredo wernt available? Afraid Vito will make all the decisons himself?

      • hawaiieaglesfan

        AHH!! FOGET ABOUT IT!!

    • Richard Colton

      Azzinaro is Abruzzese. If Chip had a wartime consigliere, a Sicilian, he wouldn’t be in this shape.

      • Adam

        Abruzzese? Like the guy from Pearl Jam?

    • Mark Saltveit

      He’s also the only coach that was with Chip at New Hampshire and Oregon. That should tell you something.

  • Anon

    This is a good story. Though it kind of worries me — not sure what it’s going to take the FO to really concentrate on the defensive side of the ball — it’s so glaringly bad that I think it limits how good we can be.

    • RIP illa

      No, Howie can’t put forth a concerted effort to fix to improve the D, ’cause that would take away from the focus of improving he O and make both squads middle o the road’! Even though the only major offensive upgrade we made was picking Lane Johnson and the rest of the O pick ups can hardly be called upgrades and/or improvements.

      Nope, no time to worry bout the D when you have a juggernaut O to build that as very heavily scheme based and is being led by a coach who’s more about “plug and play”.

      • Anon

        Agree, we definitely could have taken a DB in the 4th (or second rd). Not sold on Ertz in the second round, Zach Sudfeld was undrafted and seems to be doing fine (no to mention we already had 4 TEs on the roster). I think everyone expected that MB would be better though not sure why.

  • bushisamoron

    Davis inspires little confidence as his track record is poor. Couple that with the first year of a conversion to a 3-4 and a weak back end and we better put 25+ points up to have a shot at winning. This is a three year plan on defense.

    • Leon

      Jim Johnson had a pretty poor track record also. Got fired from Indy as their Defensive Coordinator and was coaching bad Seattle LB’s. Then he came here and we know the rest. Give the guy a chance.

  • ACViking

    If people like Kelly and his theories, then it seems more than than a little unfair to criticize Davis.

    Davis didn’t put a gun to Kelly’s head to get the job. Kelly picked him.

    Love Kelly? Then love Davis.

    • Richard Colton

      I liked Buddy Ryan. Defensive genius. 4-3 innovator. Clueless when it came to offense.

      I loved Ryan, still do, and I feel just fine criticizing Rich Kotite.

      I’m willing to give Davis as fair a chance as I’d give anyone, but it isn’t because of how impressed I am with CK’s offense.

      • UKEagle99

        I think calling Buddy Ryan clueless on offence is a bit harsh, he told Randall “to make plays” or “make something happen”, to be fair Randall usually did. See, now you have me all sentimental and thinking about the Buffallo TD and the comeback against the Redskins where the commentator actually said “there is Dexter Manley looking rather perplexed”, after the Eagles won from being 28-0 or 35-0 down… love it! I digress….

        You are right to criticise Rich though, I still can’t believe he let inflation in the UK hit 11% in 1990, what the hell was he thinking?

  • Anon

    Pats cut a CB, Ras-I Dowling. He has injury problems but we don’t care about that. But they ddi pick him pretty high in the draft, wonder if he was active on pats / eagles practices..

    • BlindChow

      Speaking of high draft picks, I read an ESPN blog post about the Jets, which mentioned Jarrett possibly starting at safety, with the writer reasoning “he was a second round pick, so you know he has talent.”

  • djack10

    where’s juan castillo fit in with all this?