Eagles Wake-Up Call: The Hidden Faces On Kelly’s Staff

This morning, reporters will once again get a chance to speak with several of the Eagles’ assistant coaches about training camp and the upcoming season.

But there are a couple members of Chip Kelly’s staff who remain somewhat of a mystery.

The first is Kelly’s Chief of Staff, James Harris, who came over with him from Oregon. In his excellent Eagles Almanac piece, Justin Stranzl explains that Kelly leaned heavily on Harris to deal with players’ off-the-field issues.

Last month, Kelly was asked about Harris’ role with the Eagles.

“James is a lot of our scheduling and kind of our liaison for me through our weight room, our training room, what kind of goes on [with] what I call our first floor here,” he said.

Is that different from what he did at Oregon?

“Yeah, a lot different,” Kelly said. “He was in life skills there and started off in nutrition when I first got there as an assistant, and then moved up to life skills and did a lot of different things like that. Here he’s more of an administrator.”

If Kelly’s description of Harris’ duties sounds a bit vague, that’s because Harris apparently is capable of handling a variety of responsibilities.

Here are some examples from a 2011 piece in The Oregonian:

If you’re having trouble with your boyfriend or girlfriend, you can talk to Harris. He’s there to dole out advice on how to manage your money, or what to do when you get homesick. He can talk you through fights with your parents, or frustrations with playing time. James says he plays “messenger to the man in charge” when athletes are too scared to do it themselves. More times than he cares to remember, Harris has had the unfortunate task of guiding an athlete through the death of a family member or close friend. Too many times, he’s had to deliver the news himself.

In that same article, Harris explains that he enjoys handling the intangibles, the things that don’t have to do with game-planning, scheme, technique, etc.

One of the other mystery men on Kelly’s staff went to school at Nebraska with Harris: sports science coordinator Shaun Huls.

In an excellent MMQB story, Jenny Vrentas explored Huls’ role, along with the many changes taking place at the NovaCare Complex:

Monitoring heart rate is another way to gauge training load, as well as how close a player is at any given point of his workout to maximum exertion. The Polar system generates post-workout recovery reports, with a timestamp for when an athlete can next handle more training. Mike Valentino, Polar’s national sales manager for team sports, says a Big East women’s soccer team saw a 75% decrease in soft-tissue injuries during its first season using the technology. And the Omegawave system uses an electrocardiogram transmitter and a pair of electrodes that tap into the central nervous system to measure stress, fatigue and capacity for aerobic or anaerobic exercise. Players can log into their personal computers to check their own fitness profiles.

But data means the most when there’s an expert there to understand and apply it, and that’s where Huls comes in. Says Barwin, “If you’re suddenly more sore than usual, or you start to feel an injury pop up, you can go check with him and see what your numbers look like for that practice, and see why.”

Huls wasn’t made available for the MMQB story, and he hasn’t spoken to reporters since joining the Eagles. The same goes for Harris.

Two men who remain behind the curtain, but are clearly playing major roles in the changes taking place under Kelly.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Kelly brought in a Navy SEALs officer to talk to the team during its ‘High Performance Mindset Meeting.’

The Eagles claimed RB William Powell off waivers from the Cardinals.

An excerpt from my Eagles Almanac article on how we’ll likely see a Steelers’ influence on the Birds’ D.

James Casey shows up early to camp, prepares for “very important” role in Kelly’s offense.

Is Kelly going down the wrong path? One man thinks so.

Click here to purchase the 2013 Eagles Almanac. You will be happy you did. Trust me.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

In a wide-ranging interview with Philly Mag’s own Richard Rys, Donovan McNabb touches on a variety of topics, including that last playoff loss in Dallas:

The air guitar. This is the thing people don’t understand. I brought the air guitar out at training camp. Everybody loved it. Leonard Weaver had the drums, DeSean Jackson was rapping. It was like a band. We were having a good time. When I brought the air guitar out in the playoffs, that wasn’t to throw it in anybody’s face. That was me showing that we’re loose. If we’d have won the game, wouldn’t nobody have said nothing about the air guitar. We’d just lost to Dallas [the week before] because I felt like we came into that game thinking too much of the result. The whole week, it was, Let’s get back to being who we are. Let’s be loose. And people took it—he’s not focused. You can hate me all you want to. When I’m on that field, I couldn’t care less.

Zach Berman of the Inquirer writes that Mike Williams’ new contract is good news for Jeremy Maclin:

This is a good day for Jeremy Maclin, and he’s not even on the field. Here’s why: Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams signed a six-year, $40.25 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. This is a nice contract for Williams, who had a troubled college career at Syracuse but has turned into a productive NFL receiver. Williams had one year left on the deal, and the guaranteed money is comparable to what DeSean Jackson and Victor Cruz received.

COMING UP

Going to be a busy day here at Birds 24/7. We’ll talk to assistant coaches in the morning, and then will catch up with veterans as they report for camp.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Leftovers From DeSean, Peters And Graham

Here are three leftovers from last week’s media availabilities.

1. DeSean Jackson was asked whether Chip Kelly’s tempo suits the Eagles’ current personnel.

“The up-tempo, getting up, getting on the ball fast is able to keep the defense off-guard,” Jackson said. “Any time I think you have an up-tempo offense that’s coming back to the line of scrimmage so fast, so fast, just doing all types of plays to really keep them off-guard is really an addition to this offense and [fits] the playing style [of] some similar guys that we already have here.”

This is one of those opinions that is easy to express during the first week of the offseason training program and will need to be re-visited down the road. But offensive players seem to enjoy playing in Kelly’s system. One reason? More plays means more touches for the skill-position players.

I’m anxious to see how Kelly plans on distributing snaps. Jackson has been used to rarely coming off the field. Last year, he played at least 90 percent of the snaps in seven of the 10 games he was healthy for.

2. A reporter asked Brandon Graham about sports science coordinator Shaun Huls.

“I heard about him just from a couple players that were here and were telling me, ‘Just get ready to run and just get ready to move fast because this guy, he’s very serious,’ ” Graham said. “And when I first saw him, he wasn’t saying too much. He was just real quiet, but when he gets in the weight room, he’s a different guy.”

The main difference Eagles players are seeing so far is in the weight room. By all accounts, the tempo is being felt there too, with less rest in between sets and constant movement.

“Everybody didn’t think we were going to run as hard, but we did,” Graham said. “You should be in shape when you get here. It felt good to get good work in. The lift was a little faster, less rest.”

3. We saw a different Jason Peters last week. The Eagles’ veteran left tackle has long been known as a man of few words, but he sounded confident and motivated when speaking to reporters for the first time since injuring (and then re-injuring) his Achilles’ last offseason.

Peters turned 31 in January. He’s been in the league since 2004, but has never won a playoff game.

“Haven’t had one. Don’t know what it feels like. Can’t wait to feel it,” Peters said. “So that’s what I’m going to work towards this year.”

It’s dangerous to read too much into a 10-minute interview, but Todd Herremans indicated previously that Peters really missed being on the field last year.

“I talked to Jason,  he’s just as excited as I am — probably more so,” Herremans said. “He is cleared and said he is ready to rock. Sitting out from football for a whole year kind of makes you realize how much you miss it, and I know he is itching to get back.”

Peters even at 80 or 85 percent of what he used to be would go a long way in helping this offensive line rebound.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Reaction To Chip Kelly’s Coaching Staff

There has been plenty of buzz since Chip Kelly officially announced his staff on Friday. We rounded up some of that reaction for your reading pleasure.

First off, if you haven’t already make sure you dive into Sheil’s breakdown (with help from the All-22) of the “4-3 under” that new defensive coordinator Billy Davis has used in the past. In this hybrid scheme there is a position called the Predator, which is essentially an outside linebacker/defensive end that almost exclusively rushes the passer.

Dan Graziano talks about that position and more.

In this arrangement, the Eagles’ “predator” could be either Trent Cole or Brandon Graham. Either one fits the mold as a pure pass-rusher with a great first step and, especially in Graham’s case, a high motor. I’m not sure either of those guys translates to the strong-side linebacker role in this scheme, and Mychal Kendricks seems suited to the weak-side linebacker role. They may need to find a more traditional stand-up linebacker and either rotate or decide between Cole and Graham, since you have to think Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox are the ends and the nose tackle is someone not yet on the roster.

Another interesting aspect has to do with veteran middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who would remain an extremely important player in a scheme such as this. It’s true that one of the reasons the Texans traded Ryans to the Eagles was that he’d become an imperfect fit once they switched to a 3-4, but that had more to do with Ryans’ salary and the emergence of fellow linebacker Brian Cushing as a superior three-down option than it did Ryans’ ability to play the scheme. And if Davis runs a system similar to the one he ran in Arizona, Ryans takes on a vital dirty-work role.

Tommy Lawlor gives a thoughtful take on the new staff, while zoning in on the O-line coach:

Hiring OL coach Jeff Stoutland came as a real surprise.  He did a phenomenal job at Alabama, developing the nation’s best OL this year.  The most interesting tie-in with Stoutland is that he was the OC at Cornell in the early 90′s when their QB was a kid named Bill Lazor.  Getting a coach like Stoutland is a real coup.  He was given Grade-A talent at Alabama and delivered a great O-line.  Some may question how he’ll do with Chip Kelly’s system.  Chris Brown, who runs SmartFootball.com, said on Twitter a while back that “Chip Kelly’s top run plays — inside zone, outside zone & power (guard pull) — are same Trent Richardson ran at Alabama.”  I would say that Stoutland and Kelly will be an excellent match in terms of style and system.

Reuben Frank cautions against jumping to conclusions about Kelly’s assistants simply because they lack star power.

The Eagles’ success from 2000 through 2008 was due in great part to Andy Reid’s original staff. When those guys gradually began leaving for promotions — Ron Rivera, Leslie Frazier, John Harbaugh, Brad Childress, Steve Spagnuolo, Shurmur — on top of the tragic death of Jim Johnson, that’s when the Eagles stopped enjoying the same level of success and gradually turned into a last-place team.

When Reid announced those guys, the names certainly didn’t blow anybody away, and the reaction was much the same as it’s been the last couple weeks, as Kelly’s hires have been revealed one by one.

Shurmur had been an offensive line coach at Stanford. Frazier was head coach at obscure Trinity College, where he started up the program. Spags was coaching in the World League, of all places. Rivera had just returned to the NFL after five years in private business. Harbs was an unknown special teams coach, still 13 years from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.  Offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower was the ultimate journeyman coach, in his 14th job in 28 years. Even the legendary Johnson hadn’t had a unit ranked higher than 18th during his two years as an NFL defensive coordinator, 1996 and 1997 with the Colts.

But put it all together, and it worked.

Much of the talk has been about Navy Seal trainer turned Eagles Sports Science Coordinator Shaun Huls. Lindsay Jones of USA Today looks for the meaning behind the move:

Since the Eagles lured Kelly away from Oregon last month, the NFL world has been wondering how Kelly would implement his innovative college system, with his high-paced practices and up-tempo offense, in the NFL.

Hiring Huls appears to be part of that plan. While other teams have dabbled with alternative training programs — the Denver Broncos, for example, gutted their training room after hiring a new strength coach last year — the Eagles are thought to be the first to add a Sports Science Coordinator in an official capacity.

Kelly has previous experience with Navy SEAL training. In 2011, he put his Oregon team through a program called “Judgment Day” led by a former SEALs trainer, and in 2010 told The New York Times how much he admired military-style training.

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