The Eagles' offseason program is a wrap, and the big takeaway from minicamps and OTAs wasn't the quarterbacks or any other competition — those things will only begin to sort themselves out come training camp in July. It wasn't really about Doug Pederson, Jim Schwartz and the new coaching staff that's in place, either.
In many ways, the story here was still about Chip Kelly, the disgraced head coach Pederson replaces. It's about how unimaginative Kelly's offense truly was. It's about how fundamentally flawed his coaching philosophies were. It's about the juxtaposition of Kelly against not just Pederson, but essentially any other coach in the NFL.
Not one player went so far as to say Pederson's approach is actually better. They didn't have to. After awhile, it became clear Kelly ignores far too many conventions of pro football to ever experience sustained success in this league — if that much wasn't obvious already.
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Yes, Kelly has a second life with the San Francisco 49ers, but honestly, how long will that last?
Listening to player after player extol the virtues of being able to change the play at the line of scrimmage was telling. So too was the mere idea of a coach calling plays with the thought of defeating specific coverages or defenses in mind. Just watching the sheer variety and amount of formations that moved running backs around like chess pieces, deployed an ever-changing group of receivers from the slot or constantly differing number of tight ends on the field is a sight to behold. Hey, was that a fullback? It sure was!
I became impressed by something as simple as the offense using snap counts, as the defense clearly was too judging from how often they jumped offside. Defenders also seem pleased with the idea that a perpetual two-minute drill won't put their unit back on the field for record numbers of plays once again. Even the head coach halting practice to bark instructions or pulling a player aside for a little one-on-one teaching seemed foreign to me after watching Kelly patrol the field silent, alone for three years.
There's still music at practice. Players still drink smoothies afterwards. The offense even goes uptempo from time to time.
This is how an actual NFL team operates though, specifically with respect to its offense. It's complex both in design and magnitude, allowing for wrinkles and sub-packages that haven't been seen as opposed to the same calls over and over again. It affords the quarterback the opportunity to diagnose the defense and make decisions, check out of bad plays and audible to new ones or try to draw the defense into a penalty, rather than relying on pure speed in the hopes of tiring defenders out. It's game-plans drawn up for specific opponents, giving different looks, using specific players' skills and strengths rather than viewing them all as interchangeable parts.
Yes, Kelly no doubt expedited his own demise in ways that had little to with his performance on the sideline. He created a rift in the front office, then made one questionable personnel decision after another. He divided the locker room as well by being impersonal and unwilling to adapt to his players' needs. The whole situation became untenable.
His biggest problem, however, is his methods are exposed at this level. Tempo might wear out a bad defense, but the good ones are ready. After that, what does Kelly really have to offer? His offense, in terms of scheme, didn't appear to be all that innovative after all, often reduced to running 15 or 20 plays a game.
In fact, Kelly often wore "simple offense" like it was a badge of honor. Critics always held it against him, increasingly so as the Eagles became increasingly stagnant on that side of the ball over his three seasons.
At first it was easy to get caught up in the Kelly hype. Even when the Eagles struggled under Kelly, there were excuses to be made.
In retrospect, was the reality all along that Kelly is just a "college coach," as he is so often accused of being? Will all his gimmicks eventually wear thin or prove ineffective, as tempo — the most infamous among them — already has?
The Eagles are ready to move forward from the Kelly regime. At this point, we all are. Then again, if there was only one reason to be hopeful that this team and in particular this offense with relatively little change in personnel will be better instantaneously under Pederson, it's the return of seemingly basic football conventions that maybe aren't innovative and don't get a lot of buzz, but concepts that are proven to work in the NFL.
Is Pederson a good head coach? Who knows. But after three years of Kelly, it sure is easy to buy what he's selling.