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Fan-Demonium: Kelly's Signature Feat

Posted Nov 23, 2013

You can make a strong case that the most important thing a coaching staff does is develop players. There is an obsession with playbooks and playcalling, but those are highly overrated aspects of coaching. Fire and brimstone speeches are another popular myth. They don't happen as much as people think and they are far less effective than most believe.

Coaches must develop players, whether acquired via trade, free agency or the draft. Few players arrive ready to go. It is up to the coaching staff to get them ready for the league, the scheme and the team. Chip Kelly and his coaches have done a brilliant job with player development. I don't say that lightly.

The first player to bring up is obviously Nick Foles. He did some promising things as a rookie, but never looked anything like the guy we're seeing this year. If I had told you back in July that Foles would share an exhibit case at the Hall of Fame with Peyton Manning, you'd have likely laughed uncontrollably. Or you might have asked which hall of fame I meant. Can you imagine if I told you that on November 23 Foles would be leading the league in passer rating? You would have demanded that I get drug tested. And rightfully so.

There was a lot of confusion when Kelly brought back Michael Vick. Why keep a veteran when you've got a young player on the roster who needs playing time? Kelly had multiple motives, but I think one of the keys was that he wanted good competition for the quarterback position. Kelly didn't give Foles the job. He gave Foles the chance to compete for the job.

Vick outplayed Foles this summer and won the competition. Foles didn't bury his head in the sand. He kept working hard and stayed focused. Vick has struggled to stay healthy in his time with the Eagles. Foles had to think that he would get a shot and it was his duty to be ready when that chance rolled around. Vick did get hurt and Foles has played great this year.

By making Foles compete for the job, Kelly and his staff brought out the best in Foles. It would have been convenient for Kelly to just name Foles the starter and have the attitude that, "We'll see how he does." Kelly doesn't work like that. He loves competition. He wants players to fight for their jobs. That helps to build up their mental and emotional toughness. It also shows Kelly who is willing to compete and who has a sense of entitlement.

Kelly and his coaches helped Foles in other ways. The sports science stuff has Foles looking more athletic than ever. He just played in a game where he ran for more yards than Robert Griffin III. Foles is throwing the ball better than I've ever seen. Set that stuff aside and think about quarterback skills. Foles is making good reads and smart decisions. He has used pump fakes and eye manipulation better than any Eagles quarterback in a long time. Foles is a better player in every way, shape and form.

DeSean Jackson is playing the best football of his career. Jackson got into a rut in previous years. He ran deep route after deep route. Kelly came in and told him to learn to play ever receiver spot. Jackson wasn't thrilled at first, but did buy in and now he's on pace to have the best season of his career. Go beyond the numbers. Jackson is blocking better than ever. He is effective on short routes, which wasn't always the case in the past. Jackson is also using the middle of the field. In previous seasons, he was a little too quick to bounce plays wide so he could get out of bounds.


Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

Flip over to defense. Vinny Curry had a quiet rookie season. He bulked up in the off-season and then made the transition to playing end in the 3-4. Curry had to learn how to play 2-gap technique at the NFL level. This was a huge change for a player who preferred to explode off the ball and get up the field. Go re-watch the preseason games. Curry fell back on his old habits. He flew off the ball. He made plays. But he didn't do what Kelly and the staff wanted. Curry wasn't active for the first two games. Many people, including me, complained. Surely, the coaches could see they needed him on the field.

The coaches did play Curry in Week 3, but they mixed him in carefully. Curry was mainly used as a pass rusher. Since then, the coaches have continued to work with Curry. He has now gotten to the point where he is a reliable run defender. On Sunday, Curry made a good play using 2-gap technique. He shed a block and tackled Griffin III on a run up the middle. That was a key stop. The very next play is when Barwin hit Griffin III and the ball came loose. Curry continues to shine when allowed to attack upfield, but has become a more complete player.

Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro has his players hit the sled every day. He wants them to understand how to use their hands and how to shed blocks so that it becomes second nature. This emphasis on fundamentals has paid off with Curry. I think the coaches bringing Curry along slowly was also important. They made him realize that he had to do things their way. You can't have a good defense if players freelance. Players must do their specific job to make the scheme work. Curry didn't seem to get that in the summer, but he got their message loud and clear when he sat on the bench for a couple of games.

Think about a veteran player like Nate Allen. He had 38 career starts prior to this season. Allen showed a lot of promise as a rookie in 2010, but his play dropped off quite a bit since then. The coaches didn't worry about Allen's recent problems. They focused on fundamentals. Watch Allen in August, September and then November and you will see three different players. It took time for the light to go on for Allen, but he's playing solid football right now. He had a couple of physical hits on Sunday. Allen is tackling better than ever. Why? It has nothing to do with toughness or effort. Technique is the big difference.

The new staff came in and harped on the fundamentals of tackling. They went over basics like head placement, hand-use and footwork. Defensive players are taught to put their head out in front of the target. That makes it tougher for the runner/receiver to break the tackle. If the head is behind the target, the tackler is relying just on his arms. When the head is in front, the tackler uses his head, neck and shoulder area to help. That is tougher to run through. It also leads to less reaching.

Beyond tackling, Allen isn't making as many mental mistakes. He's new to the scheme, but seems very comfortable. There were some times early in the season when Allen was out of place and that caused problems when trying to get to receivers and make tackles. In recent weeks, Allen has cleaned that stuff up. He's playing with confidence and just looks like a different guy.

The previous staff spent two years trying to fix Allen's problems, but never could get the light to go on. Kelly and his coaches have gotten better play in a matter of months.

There is no magic formula for the success the staff has had with developing players. Part of it is motivation. A big part of it is focusing on the fundamentals. I also think the sports science training is a factor. Eagles players are in the best shape of their lives.

I do think Kelly's ideas on practicing are the one area where he is different than most, if not all, coaches. Kelly mixes in music. He practices at the fastest pace in the entire league. Kelly also changed up the schedule. Saturday used to be a walkthrough. Kelly prefers a “run-through.” He has players moving at a brisk pace the day before games. That is unheard of. Kelly also changed up things after games. The players get Monday off and then come to work on Tuesday. For the rest of the NFL, Tuesday is the off day.

These changes weren't made lightly. Kelly has very specific thoughts on training and recovery. He knows how and when to push his players to get the most from them. He then makes sure they have enough rest to recover properly so that their bodies don't get worn down.

Kelly challenges players, physically, mentally and emotionally. His goal is to bring out the best in them. Kelly knows that won't happen if he makes things easy. The message is delivered in the right way and the players are responding to it. You also have to give tremendous credit to the positional coaches for being such good teachers. This is the best overall Eagles staff in years.

The media is all over the Chip Kelly offense when they should be focused on his ability to develop players. Anyone can design a play. Coaches become great when they have the ability to get players to buy in to their message and then get the most out of those players.

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