When a new coach takes over a team, there is always a lot of change. There are scheme changes, which lead to the need for different players. Some veteran players are let go because they are no longer part of the long-term plan. New coaches also like "new blood." They want competition and that means bringing in players to challenge established starters and even role players.
Let's take a look at the transition from Andy Reid's Eagles to Chip Kelly's Eagles.
Reid's primary quarterbacks were Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick. There were other starters mixed in (Doug Pederson, Kevin Kolb, Jeff Garcia, etc.), but McNabb and Vick started 178 of Reid's 224 regular season games with the Eagles. Nick Foles did start six games for Reid in 2012.
Foles began 2013 as the backup, but ended up starting 10 games for Kelly. Foles had a magical season and Kelly proclaimed him the Eagles’ starting quarterback for the next 1,000 years. That was obviously a facetious answer to repeated questions about Foles as the long term starter, but Foles is now front and center with the Eagles’ franchise. Coaches and quarterbacks are joined at the hip. Brady-Belichick. Montana-Walsh. Staubach-Landry. McNabb-Reid.
Now we have Foles-Kelly. Time will tell if they deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the others, but Kelly has his starting quarterback. Many thought Foles would be a poor fit due to his lack of running skills. Instead, Foles put up gaudy passing numbers and even ran for 221 yards and three touchdowns. Kelly's offense does not demand a mobile quarterback. It creates chances for the quarterback to run and Foles was athletic enough to take advantage of them. Foles isn't a weapon as a runner, but he's able to make plays when the defense gives him an opening.
Foles just had a terrific showing in the Organized Team Activities and minicamp. Expectations for him and the offense are sky high heading into 2014. McNabb and Vick seem like distant memories. This offense now belongs to Nick Foles.
Running The Ball
In case you forgot, Reid was a passing coach. Kelly prefers the run. The Eagles led the NFL in rushing in 2013, something the team never did under Reid.
Good running usually means good blocking. Kelly emphasized the importance of blocking by skill players and he got great results.
It was great to see the skill players take such satisfaction in the success of the running game. You see some skill players moan and groan about touches. Kelly got his players to embrace their increased blocking responsibilities. The Eagles drafted receivers
If you want to catch passes for Chip Kelly, you better be willing to block and you better be pretty good at it.
The 3-4 Defense
The Eagles ran the 3-4 defense in 1985. Then some guy named Buddy Ryan came to town and switched over to the 4-3. Defensive coordinators and head coaches came and went, but the 4-3 stayed. Until Kelly arrived, that is.
Kelly prefers the 3-4 as his base defense. There are some four-man fronts in the nickel and dime units, but those aren't the 4-3. Those are sub-packages with different combinations of linebackers and defensive backs.
Not only does Kelly use the 3-4, but he has his players use the two-gap technique up front. In a one-gap system, the defensive linemen and linebackers are each responsible for one gap. They can fly up the field as long as they stay in that gap. The one-gap system is all about attacking. The two-gap system is for the defensive line. The ends and nose tackle no longer attack off the ball. They engage blockers and control two gaps. This gives freedom to the linebackers to find the ball and get to it.
Switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4 isn't always easy. The Eagles had mixed results in 2013.
The 2014 draft brought in linebacker
Kelly is not a typical football coach. He loves X's and O's just like the rest, but Kelly is willing to do anything to gain an edge for his teams. He brought a Sports Science program to the Eagles. There are only so many draft picks and free agent dollars. At some point, you have to win with the players you have.
One way to gain an advantage is to make your players the best they can possibly be. This involves strength training, conditioning, practice, nutrition, rest and recovery. Kelly doesn't practice as long as other teams, but moves at an incredibly fast pace. The Eagles actually get in more reps despite spending less time on the practice field. Kelly then gives the players personalized smoothies as they come off the field. There is a reason behind everything the Eagles do and the way they do it.
The Eagles have always been a forward-thinking organization, but Kelly has taken that to the next level. He takes ideas from all over the place and mixes them together to try and give his players every possible advantage. Kelly wants his players to be smart and dedicated. He wants players who will buy in to new ideas.
Kelly didn't go to Lehigh for Training Camp. He changed the practice schedule. Tradition isn't as important to Kelly as trying to win and doing everything he can to help the current team. He isn't afraid to mix things up and go against the grain.
Time will tell how much Kelly's ideas and the Sports Science side of things really work, but you certainly can't argue with the initial results. The Eagles were one of the healthiest teams in the league despite playing more snaps than any other NFC team (and almost any NFL team). The players all raved about how fresh they felt at the end of the season. Most players, especially veterans, are worn down by January. Eagles players said they had never felt as good at the end of a season as they did in 2013.
Kelly has been on the job for about a year and a half. He's already put his stamp on the Eagles in a big way. This is true in terms of scheme, personnel and overall philosophy. Reid was here for 14 seasons, but it seems like he's been gone forever. That's no insult to Big Red, but rather a compliment to Kelly and the great job he's done at making the Eagles his team.