Chip Kelly On Operating Without A Franchise Quarterback

PHOENIX — Chip Kelly referred to quarterback as the most important position on the field multiple times during his 70-minute session with reporters at the owners meeting Wednesday.

He also made it clear that he does not view it as a death sentence if your team does not have a franchise signal-caller.

“We still have to play,” said Kelly. “So if you don’t have a franchise quarterback you can’t just throw your hands up before the game and go, ‘We don’t have Tom Brady so we’re screwed today.’ Every coach’s job is to put their players in position to make plays. You have to adjust and you have to adapt, and I think that’s where people make mistakes.”

Kelly referenced Mike Shanahan drastically altering the offense when RGIII got hurt and Kirk Cousins went in. He also brought up John Fox making the playoffs with Tim Tebow and then Peyton Manning in Denver. Two different skill levels and styles, but Denver was able to make alterations and maximize the talent at that position.

Now we come to a most interesting part of this conversation.

As a follow-up, Kelly was asked if his system can de-emphasize the importance of a traditional, superstar, marquee quarterback.

“Yeah,” he said, “because we didn’t have traditional, superstar, marquee quarterbacks at Oregon.”

And he’s right. Last year his QB was Marcus Mariota (32 TD, 6 INT); he had Darron Thomas in 2011 (33 TD,  7 INT) and 2010 (30 TD, 9 INT); in ’09 he went with Jeremiah Masoli (15 TD, 6 INT); and his first season as offensive coordinator he mentored Dennis Dixon (20 TD, 4 INT). The machine continued to hum regardless of who was under center, and the Ducks had 10 or more wins every year Kelly was  head coach.

This is a different league, however. And it should be noted that there is fine print on the recent NFL examples Kelly referenced.  Tebow’s Broncos went 8-8 two years ago but came out on top in a week AFC West and snuck into the postseason (where, granted, they won a game). And while Cousins performed well in place of RGIII, he only started one game. Teams with elite quarterbacks have long dominated the NFL.

Kelly knows this and is most definitely in search of an answer at quarterback. He decided to keep both Michael Vick and Nick Foles around, wanting the chance to work with the quarterbacks before making the all-important decision of which direction he wants to go in. And the Eagles are sniffing around some QBs in the draft as well. They have already worked out Geno Smith, and will travel to Tallahassee next week to hold a private workout with EJ Manuel.

The plan, once the quarterbacks are collected and practices begin, is to open up a full-fledged competition for the No. 1 job.

“I don’t think you gain anything by naming a quarterback coming out of minicamps or naming a quarterback coming out of OTAs or naming a quarterback even in the first week of practice,” said Kelly. “The thing that’s unique in terms of how we practice is everybody is going to get a lot of reps, so that’s the key.”

Kelly said that he is not really a fan of  a two-quarterback system.

“[At Oregon] it was always distinct that one guy was the guy,” said Kelly, “and he separated himself because we allowed that evaluation process to be extended.”

Expect an extended evaluation process to happen in Philly as well. The hope is that Vick or Foles or maybe even a draft pick will distinguish himself and provide the stability that every franchise craves.  Finding a star quarterback is the mission and desired outcome, obviously, but Kelly will have a Plan B if it doesn’t immediately come to pass.