Why Chip Kelly Values Mychal Kendricks

During one play Tuesday, Brent Celek motioned to the slot on the left side, and linebacker Mychal Kendricks went with him.

Celek ran a corner route downfield, towards the sideline, but Kendricks was able to stick with the tight end, and the pass went in another direction.

This is Chip Kelly’s offense. Identify versatile pieces, move them around the formation, create mismatches, and move fast.

But Kendricks has the skill set to negate that style. So it makes sense that Kelly is excited about what the second-year player can bring to the defense.

“He excels in pass coverage, but he’s physical enough to play on first and second down,” Kelly said. “He’s one of the more athletic linebackers in this league, so really excited about his future and what he can do. He can do everything we’ve asked him to do.”

Kendricks had ups and downs as a rookie. He showed he can cover, finished third on the team in tackles (88, per team stats) and had eight tackles for loss (second to only DeMeco Ryans).

On the flip side, Kendricks missed 11 tackles, tied for most among linebackers, according to Football Outsiders. And because he’s not the biggest guy (5-11, 239), he sometimes has trouble getting off of blocks.

“I think I’m a three-down backer,” Kendricks said. “I can cover. I can play the run. So the only mismatch you can really say is me being the size I am. But I think I’ve proven worthy of any situation.”

Kendricks said he didn’t review film of last year because the Eagles are moving on to a new scheme in 2013 with new coaches and new players. He played in a 3-4 in college and showed the ability to fill a variety of roles. As a junior, he got the opportunity to rush the passer and totaled seven sacks. As a senior, he was used more inside and finished with 14.5 tackles for loss.

Going forward, the Eagles’ coaching staff will work on finding the best way to utilize Kendricks’ skill set. But clearly, he’s at his best when the big guys up front can keep offensive linemen off of him and allow Kendricks to fly around and make plays.

“We can put those guys in our package where we need them for us to be successful,” said inside linebackers coach Rick Minter. “And whether that’s handling the motions, handling the blitzing, whether that’s man coverage, we can job-assign our guys to where they need to be for our team to be successful.

“And that’s why we say our scheme will ultimately be predicated off what our best 11 guys can do collectively as a group. And that’ll help dictate fronts, that’ll help dictate coverage. That’ll help dictate percentage of pressure versus percentage of not as much pressure, based on who we are.”

Kendricks called the new scheme “totally different” from what the Eagles ran last year. But the pace of practice is not completely foreign to him.

In college, before Cal played Oregon, Kendricks practiced at a similar tempo.

“Those practices that week when we were preparing were the hardest all year just because we were getting ready for fast tempo and just crazy things,” Kendricks said. “We always played really well against them for the most part.”

Kendricks’ statement is partially true. When he was a freshman, Cal beat Oregon, 26-16. And as a junior, they limited the Ducks to 13 points in a two-point loss. But the other two meetings didn’t go as well (a 43-15 loss as a senior and a 42-3 loss as a sophomore).

Now, of course, Kendricks will be playing for Kelly, and after starting his NFL career on a 4-12 team, he’s looking forward to the change.

“If it’s going to be a fresh start around here, it might as well be a fresh start with me and how I do my stuff and handle my business,” Kendricks said. “The rookie stuff’s out the window.”

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Ryans Draws Rave Reviews

Even before he got the job as the Eagles’ inside linebackers coach, Rick Minter knew of DeMeco Ryans.

In the past three months, though, he’s discovered that everything he’d heard was spot-on.

“He is the leader of our group,” Minter said. “He’s the elder statesman, the older player. Fortunately, when your older player is a producer, and he’s one of your very best people in the room, it really is a very good situation.”

When Minter was recently looking for the linebackers to get some extra work in, he knew who to go to.

“I can just tell that he’s the guy that the fellas will look to when they need some word of guidance or advice,” Minter said.

“We were talking about getting some additional meeting time the other day, which is all within the limits of the CBA, and he coordinated that effort and got back to me. You could tell they went through him to say, ‘What do you think, D?’ And then he came to me, ‘What do you think, coach?’”

Last year was proof that leadership only extends so far. Ryans drew the same rave reviews from the previous coaching staff, but the Eagles’ defense fell apart in 2012.

The veteran is used to change. He’s playing for his fifth different defensive coordinator in the past four years.

When the Texans decided to trade Ryans, there were questions about how he fit in a 3-4 scheme. As I’ve pointed out with the All-22 recently, I think he’ll fit just fine.

Not surprisingly, Minter also feels that way.

“I think it is a little overrated to be honest with you from time to time when people say he can play in this scheme but he can’t play in that scheme.,” he said.

“When you’re an inside guy, things come at you from both sides and all angles, and so you have to be a person who can feel and sense and understand things, standing up on the inside behind a bunch of big guys.”

Earlier this offseason, Howie Roseman talked about Ryans as someone who could help cultivate a new culture going forward.

So far, that seems to be working out just fine.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Coordinator Billy Davis offered hints about the Eagles’ scheme and said he’s studied Jim Johnson’s defenses.

What made Jaws change his mind about Chip Kelly? T-Mac answers in his Twitter mailbag.

Michael Vick got a key to Atlantic City yesterday, writes McManus.

Tight end James Casey is out for the remainder of the spring after undergoing knee surgery.

The latest depth chart outlook post zeroes in on the wide receivers.

Howie Roseman says some veterans might “fall by the wayside.”

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Herm Edwards has Dick Vermeil ranked 18th on his list of top-20 coaches:

An emotional coach, Vermeil also was a workaholic. You could never prepare enough for him. I played for him in Philadelphia and he gave everyone a chance, no matter where you were drafted, something we saw again with the emergence of a onetime nobody in Kurt Warner. A Super Bowl champion with the Rams, he also won four division titles.

According to Mike Sando of ESPN.com, the Eagles have the 15th-oldest projected starting lineup in the league. They have the eighth-oldest offense and 17th-oldest defense.

The Kevin Turner Foundation is holding a golf outing in Medford, N.J. next week to benefit ALS. Click here for details.

COMING UP

More from our interviews yesterday with the assistant coaches.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Three Leftovers: What’s In Store For the Eagles’ Defense?

Before I hop on a plane and head to Indianapolis for the Combine, here are three Eagles leftovers I’ve been meaning to get to, pertaining specifically to the defense.

1. Coordinator Billy Davis did not want to put a label on his defense just yet. And that’s understandable. The Eagles are going to be making several roster moves between now and OTAs. Davis needs to see what he’s got to work with before making final decisions on scheme.

But change is coming. And it’s likely to be drastic.

Chances are the Eagles are headed for some type of hybrid scheme in 2013. That means there will be downs when they line up in a classic 3-4 look. And that means we’ll probably see the 4-3 under look as well. The main takeaway here is that pre-snap disguise seems to be very much something Davis plans on incorporating.

“If you go up against Eli [Manning] or Peyton [Manning] or Drew Brees or [Tom] Brady, and they know what the look is, they eat you alive,” Davis said. “That’s what Bill Belichick is a master at: the look. How does it look? To the quarterback, if it doesn’t make sense, or it doesn’t look like what he looked at all week, you gain a little advantage on those great ones, as opposed to just aligning like it’s supposed to look. That’s the game against the other coordinators and quarterbacks.”

It may sound obvious, and well, it is. But it’s different than what we’ve seen here the last couple of seasons. In general, the Eagles lined up four-down linemen, whose primary job was to rush the passer. They threw in the occasional blitz or stunt. Sometimes, they had the defensive tackles shift outside and moved the defensive ends to the middle like rush linebackers. But overall, you knew what you were going to get from the Eagles’ front seven.

“One of the advantages of the 3-4, when you put four big guys down in a 4-3, the offensive line blocks those four big guys. It’s identified – this is who those four rushers are. We’re going to handle them,” Davis said. “When you do a 3-4, the fourth rusher could come from either outside guy or either inside guy, which really makes protection things and run-blocking schemes have to change and adapt.”

2. Pace is going to be important on defense too. Yesterday, I wrote about how Chip Kelly’s up-tempo practices are likely going to be on display at the Novacare Complex this spring. When we talk about Kelly, we immediately think offense. But one of the reasons Jeffrey Lurie hired him is because he thinks Kelly is a trend-setter. And last year, we saw more quarterbacks in the NFL get their teams to the line early to run some version of the no-huddle.

It’s now the defenses’ turn to figure out how to combat that.

“We have to learn to practice quicker and play quicker,” Davis said. “And that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re stream-lining the defense to where we can handle those challenges of the faster-paced offense. The communication by the defensive players has to be quicker and clean. The most frustrating thing in the world is when I see written on anybody’s paper, ‘communication issues on the defense.’ It drives me nuts.”

While Davis’ explanation is easier said than done, it’s likely that the Eagles’ defense is going to be practicing against a no-huddle offense everyday. That’s bound to help them on gamedays.

Davis talked about how when he was with the Cardinals, they went to the no-huddle attack with Kurt Warner in the second half of the Super Bowl and nearly completed a comeback against the Steelers.

“When it goes so fast and they’re on the line, he [the QB] says, ‘hut hut’ and all of a sudden you show a blitz, then he can take his protection, he can change it,” Davis said. “So they’re really trying to get you to expose what you’re doing. Defensively, we have to understand that and give them a little bluff, give them different looks to where ‘hut hut’ doesn’t necessarily mean you show the blitz.

“Then they try to get you out of your pressure package because you’re so afraid of them going so quick. So you’ve got to have the courage to stick with your scheme and what you’re going to do and understand that you may lose a down or two because of it, but ultimately, you don’t let them do what they’re doing. And that’s part of the rhythm that, defensively, we have to take them out of.”

One personnel note here. Some have questioned whether DeMeco Ryans fits going forward, especially in a 3-4. My answer is 100 percent yes. He’s exactly the kind of player you want directing the front seven when opposing offenses are using up-tempo attacks.

3. Kelly said he preferred finding coordinators who had NFL experience. But the seven defensive assistants under Davis have a combined one year of NFL experience. That belongs to defensive backs coach John Lovett, who was the Jets’ quality control coach in 1984.

Maybe Kelly didn’t plan it this way, and it just happened. But it sure seems like he saw value in adding college coaches, given how much NFL teams are now borrowing from the college ranks.

Davis was asked if he’s going to have to reach into a new bag of tricks to come up with answers for the pistol, the read option and whatever else is on the horizon.

“The bag of tricks is coming from this staff,” he said. “Because this staff, all the coordinators on this staff, have been facing that for a long time. And as we talk and go through it, it’s something I haven’t seen a lot.

“I remember last year in Cleveland, we had to spend a lot of time watching Washington and figuring out how we were going to adapt Coach [Dick] Jauron’s offense to stop that. Well, the guys that are in our defensive staff room right now, they’ve solved that problem a hundred times.”

Inside linebackers coach Rick Minter, who has coached at 12 different college programs, seemed to agree.

“Sixty to eighty percent of your teams in college never huddle. They get on the ball rather quick,” Minter said. “So, if this is a little bit of the wave that the NFL is headed, then the coaching knowledge that Chip has assembled on defense goes into that expertise area, because the seven coaches on defense, outside of Bill Davis, have been in the college game. He’s the lone NFL guy.

“He’ll bring the expertise of the NFL, bring the big picture. And we’ll say, ‘Here’s what they’re doing in college. Here’s what Chip does every day.’ So we’ll be a good complement.”

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