Inside Zone: The Foundation Of the Eagles’ Offense

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Before the drill begins, Jeff Stoutland shouts out a two-digit number, signaling the call to his offensive linemen.

He sets up a couple yards behind the line of scrimmage as Jason Kelce prepares to snap the ball, flanked by guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans. With 16 offensive linemen in camp, Stoutland is in charge of the largest positional group on the roster. But that can be a good thing on days like this. Before it’s their turn for reps, a couple backups hold orange blocking pads and set up as down defensive linemen. Two more stand behind them imitating linebackers.

It’s an 81-degree day in early June, and the Eagles are on the practice fields at the NovaCare Complex working on the blocking scheme for a familiar call: the inside zone. It’s a play Stoutland ran frequently at his previous stop, Alabama. And it was Chip Kelly’s go-to-work play during his time at Oregon.

When Kelly made the jump to the NFL last year, the inside zone served as the foundation for an offense that set franchise records in yards and points. So there’s a good reason why Stoutland yells the same number for the same call over and over again during practice. The pre-snap communication has to be mastered. The footwork has to be flawless. The combination blocks have to be executed. And the second-level linebackers have to be driven down the field with authority.

“It’s something we work on every day,” said offensive tackle Lane Johnson. “It’s always gonna be our bread and butter.” Read more »

Bamiro, Now At Guard, Fighting For Spot

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Michael Bamiro spent a large portion of Monday’s OTA holding a rectangular orange blocking pad. As one of 16 offensive linemen competing for about half as many spots, it acted as his entry pass so he too could jump into drills and prove to offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland he’s more than just a practice player.

“I’m really just doing whatever I can to get myself on that field,” Bamiro said. Read more »

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Draft Advantage For Kelly?

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Back in February, Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News wrote about how former Cowboys coach Jimmie Johnson had a draft advantage when he made the switch from college to the NFL:

So Johnson had a mental file of the top college players in the country. He either coached, recruited or played against them on Saturdays. His knowledge of the college game and its players gave him an edge at the draft table over his NFL rivals.

For his first five years in Dallas, Johnson would be studying and drafting many of the same players he had already studied and recruited at Miami. Those five years would cover his five-year recruiting cycle at Miami. He knew the achievers, overachievers and underachievers.

It’s no secret that Kelly’s role over the weekend was significant. During the season, he watches college film on Saturday afternoons. He attends the Senior Bowl, combine and as many Pro Days as possible. Read more »

The Matchup: Eagles Vs. Packers

JJF_8100.jpgEditor’s Note: This feature will post every Friday. We’ll bring you nuggets from the locker room, scouting reports on the upcoming game and more.

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It’s Wednesday morning at the NovaCare Complex, and Jeff Stoutland is fired up.

Practice has just started, and the pads are on. Eagles players line up row-by-row in one end zone. When the whistle sounds, the first group gets started with their warm-up routine.

First it’s knees up to their chests, followed by a light jog to the other end of the field. Then they slide like basketball players working on their defensive stances. On and on, just as they’ve done during the start of every practice since the spring.

“Pick it up today!” Stoutland shouts, watching his players’ every move as if they’re competing in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.

The 51-year-old chews his gum with authority. He claps and spits and then claps some more. Behind his dark glasses are eyes that have seen a lot since he first started coaching 29 years ago. Read more »

Johnson, O-line On ‘Chasing Ghosts’

0V3J9665The offensive line hasn’t faced many exotic looks through the first four games. In fact, when asked about the need to change protections at the line of scrimmage to account for extra rushers, Jason Kelce‘s mind traveled all the way back to one specific play against San Diego, when the Chargers brought a free safety on the weakside. There obviously weren’t a lot of examples in his mental Rolodex to choose from.

“With the type of offense we have, it’s very tough to be able to blitz and blitz effectively, because if you’re getting guys out of position, if you’re too many to one side, then all of a sudden you’re leaving things open,” Kelce said.

So the looks have been vanilla. Communication has rarely been an issue. The line has consistently been in the right calls, according to the center. Everyone understands their assignments.

So why the issues in pass protection? Read more »

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Kelly Expecting Kelce To Lead O-Line

Jason KelceJason Kelce has not spent much time away from the NovaCare Complex this offseason. The Eagles’ center estimated that the longest stretch he’s gone without stepping foot in the practice facility has been one week.

“I’ve always been a guy that’s around here a lot,” Kelce said earlier this summer. “Part of that is I think we just have great facilities, and I try to make sure that I’m in shape year-round, trying to improve my physical abilities. And obviously for this year, it was really important just to try to hone in on the quad strength in particular to get back to where it was before the injury.”

Kelce is coming off a torn ACL which he sustained in Week 2 of the 2012 season. The third-year player watched from afar as his teammates labored through a disastrous 4-12 campaign.

Now playing for a new coach, Kelce has earned praise from Chip Kelly all offseason for the work he’s put in at the team’s facility. And Kelly knows the O-Line will play a major role in determining how quickly his offense can get on track.

“I would think what we do helps him,” Kelly said. “I think there are a lot of double teams. …I would think what we do caters to Jason’s strength also. He’s extremely quick. He can get on 3-techniques pretty fast. He does a great job because he is such a smart player of reading double teams and who is coming off on the linebacker.

“So a lot of what we do… they ran a lot of zone plays here last year, so I don’t think it’s drastically different from a run game standpoint than what they were doing last year.”

Aside from actually executing blocks, Kelce is also in charge of setting the Eagles’ protection up front. The pre-snap routine requires communication between all of the offensive linemen, and the quarterback has the ability to change the call at the line of scrimmage. But it’s Kelce’s job to identify the front and put the offense in position to successfully block the play.

Earlier this summer, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland used terms like “tremendous” and “off-the-charts” to describe Kelce’s football acumen. Kelly seems to agree.

“He’s really the leader of those guys up front,” Kelly said. “I think our O‑line calls start with him. It’s between him and the quarterback and making sure the protection is set the right way. He’s got a great football mind. He’s one of those guys that I would say when he’s done playing, he’ll be a great coach because I think his attention to detail, how much film he watches, how much he studies the game. I think he’s done a great job so far.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

T-Mac talks to Lane Johnson about his big week – both personally and professionally. Do yourself a favor and click on the pic of Johnson’s baby’s monster hands.

Eagles players explain how they scored two touchdowns on the same play last week, using a run-pass option concept. No-22 shots included!

From playing time to the D-Line rotation to the addition of WR Jeff Maehl, here are three practice leftovers from Tuesday.

Billy Davis breaks down the Eagles’ breakdown on defense vs. the Pats.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

LeSean McCoy is expecting big things from DeSean Jackson this year, writes Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com:

“I think he’s back,” said McCoy, who led the NFL with 20 touchdowns two years ago. “I think the DeSean Jackson that we always knew about and saw and missed is back.

“I think Coach Kelly has a lot to do with it. I think [Jackson's] attitude is different. Just the way he’s working in the weight room, conditioning wise, the way he’s practicing, I think he’s back.

Great post by Jimmy Kempski over at Philly.com on Vinny Curry’s first step:

There were times in which Curry was lined up along the interior DL and he got doubled in the run game. In those situations, he had difficulty anchoring against the run. That’s understandable, and it’s probably best for the Eagles to try to keep him out of those situations whenever they can. However, it seems pretty clear that Vinny Curry absolutely has a role in this defense as an interior pass rusher, and he can be a very effective one.

COMING UP

The Eagles’ walk-through is closed to the media, but we have plenty to get to.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Jeff Stoutland And the ‘Fellowship Of the Miserable’

When Chip Kelly hired Jeff Stoutland, he described the 51-year-old as a “cutting‑edge offensive line coach with old school toughness.”

After having spent 27 years in the college ranks, most recently during a two-year stint at Alabama, Stoutland is now making the jump to the pros. And if you think he’s pumped about the opportunity, well, you’d be right.

“I look at every day that I come to this complex, I’m jacked out of my mind,” Stoutland said Thursday morning. “I’m excited. I’m like, ‘What are we going to get done today? How am I going to improve today? What concept are we going to master today?’ ”

He then held his thumb and his index finger about half-an-inch apart.

“I just want them to get that much better. I don’t care if you’ve been a pro for 10 years, 11 years. I just want to see you get that much better every day. Some of these guys might think I’m crazy, but I think that when there’s some juice in the air, you all play better. Everybody plays better.”

Stoutland takes over perhaps the most intriguing positional group on the team. The offensive line was a disaster last year, but it’s not as if the cupboard is bare. Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans return from season-ending injuries. Evan Mathis provides stability at left guard. And the team invested its first-round pick in Lane Johnson to take over at right tackle.

Any chances for a quick turnaround depend on the guys up front and Kelly’s ability to get his offense going quickly.

The focus in the coming weeks for Stoutland will be on scheme and technique. But the one thing he’ll demand is that the players match his energy.

“Your demeanor and how you go about every day is just huge, it’s huge,” he said. “Just realize that, even the people out in the world… forget about football… let’s just go down the street to a diner or whatever. You get a waiter or waitress who comes up and they’re like, ‘Hey! How are you today?’ I like that. I’d like to be around that person. I’m just saying, I like to be around that person. I’ll hang out there another 10 minutes just to be around that kind of person.

“I call the other people the Fellowship of the Miserable. I’ll walk on the other side of the street to avoid that person because I don’t want that in my life. I don’t want to be miserable. I don’t want to be negative. I don’t live like that.”

Like the rest of the coaches, Stoutland has less than seven weeks to get his guys ready for their Week 1 matchup against the Redskins.

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

Because the Eagles practiced with a limited roster the first two days, they had to resort to some unconventional teaching methods.

For example, with only five offensive linemen, assistant coach Jeff Stoutland set up trash cans to simulate the defense.

Here’s (iPhone-quality) video of what I mean:

When setting the protection, Jason Kelce’s job is to identify the MIKE linebacker. During one drill, Stoutland was ready to move on to the next rep, but tight ends coach Ted Williams stopped him. Kelce had yelled out ’45′ as the MIKE, but it was supposed to be ’51.’ Stoutland hadn’t caught the mistake, but Williams did.

It’s an example of how players at all levels can gain something each time they practice – something Chip Kelly emphasizes. Kelce was one of the few veterans in attendance, and by far the most experienced, but he was able to pick something up on that rep.

Stoutland, meanwhile, spent a few minutes on a key point: Guys who don’t know what the hell they’re doing try to block everybody.

His message to the linemen? Once you engage the defender, stay on him. Don’t just start freelancing because you see someone else going unblocked. That means you don’t know your assignment and don’t trust your teammates.

THE JUGS MACHINE

I want a shot at trying this before camp is over:

That’s Ifeanyi Momah making the catches. During another drill, the assistants set up the Jugs machine so that receivers would have to reach back. It looked like they were trying to simulate a crossing pattern where the ball is thrown behind the receiver.

Wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell emphasized minimized movement. In other words, receivers were supposed to reach back to catch the ball, but immediately tuck it in front of them so they could pick up yards after the catch.

AZZINARO ASKS FOR PERMISSION

Given that there are so few players in attendance, there is plenty of open space on the practice fields.

Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro was moving his group over from one drill to the next, near where Bicknell and the wide receivers were going over blocking.

“Got enough room, Bick?” Azzinaro joked. “Want to make sure you can hit your [bleepin'] 9-iron over here.”

Below is a shot of Azzinaro and the defensive line:

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