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Kelly: Still Room For Offense To Improve

Posted Mar 26, 2014

Chip Kelly's media availability during the annual NFL owners meetings in Orlando, FL, was the most anticipated and attended among the league's head coaches. A majority of the questions, understandably, focused on wide receiver DeSean Jackson and his future with the Eagles in light of recent media speculation. Kelly answered each question lobbed his way and was clear about what Jackson brings to the offense.

"What he does with his speed and his ability to separate and make plays and all of those things is key," Kelly said. "I think we have guys on offense that people want to play in man-to-man coverage, more than other people, and getting guys that can get open versus man coverage is a key deal, whether it's (Riley Cooper) or (Jeremy Maclin) or DeSean or whoever. That's one thing that we know as a group going in is that one-on-one coverage is a big deal for us and it's a big deal in this league. People probably, and I don't know statistically, played us more in man then most teams in the league. I think just getting matched up is a big thing, so we're always looking to exploit those matchups."

One way to exploit those matchups? Bring in another player with a unique skill set who excels in space and presents mismatch issues for the defense. Enter Darren Sproles, whom the team acquired from New Orleans for a fifth-round pick nearly two weeks ago.

"I think the addition of Sproles – now if you're going to play us, you have to have a linebacker cover him because he's the back," Kelly said. "That's a huge addition when we thought about bringing him in. Anybody that we're going to look at as a wide receiver in the future from here on, or that's currently on our roster, it's 'What's your ability to get open in man-to-man coverage, because we're going to see a ton of it.'"

Overall, however, the Eagles did not set a franchise record for offensive output in Kelly's first season as head coach by relying on just one player. Instead, it was the efforts of many with a true team mentality that paved the way for such astounding success – and the same principle will persist for as long as Kelly is in charge.

"I don't think our offense has ever been predicated on one player," Kelly said. "We used three quarterbacks last year, we used multiple running backs. Our tight ends are integral to what we do. I think we have an outstanding offensive line. It's never been about just one guy. I think we have diversity. We were first in rushing and ninth in passing, so I think there's balance in terms of how we do things. You want great players at every position, I think that's what we're all striving for, but (the offense) has never been predicated on just one guy – because if it is and he's out for a week or an extended period of time, you're going to be in trouble."

Now, while one player may not make or break the offense, the fact the Eagles will get a high-caliber wide receiver in Jeremy Maclin back from injury for the 2014 season has Kelly excited about the potential for the offense to be even better.

"(Maclin's) doing well, rehab-wise," Kelly said. "One thing about Mac is, he's been there every single day, even last year during the season. He was in position meetings, he was in the training room. It seemed like every day there were a few guys – Mac, Jason Phillips – who you saw, (Arrelious) Benn was the same way, those guys really attacked rehab. According to what everybody's saying, (Maclin) is on track. I think it was a big blow for us losing him in the preseason because I was excited – I had the chance to work with him in OTAs and minicamps. He's very, very talented. He's one of those guys who, if we're going to see a lot of man coverage, he can do a really, really good job because he's such a precise route runner, has outstanding speed, is good after the catch, and so we're excited to have him back. I don't know exactly what his status will be in the offseason for OTAs and minicamps, but I know he'll be 100 percent for Training Camp."

The return of Maclin and addition of Sproles, combined with natural player progression in year two of Kelly's program and tweaks the coaching staff will make to the offense with the intent to maximize all the talent on the roster, should have fans thinking big as well. The evolution of this Eagles team is an ongoing process, and Kelly will stop at nothing to perfect and achieve his vision.

"Every decision we always make is made in terms of how are we going to make guys fit?" Kelly said. "A lot of it comes right from our players. Some guys are better slant runners, other guys are better out runners, some guys run this play better, some guys run that play better. There will be tweaks, that's how I'd put it. Hopefully we'll have Mac, so how do we integrate him into the scheme and where can we use him? We moved Mac around a little bit before he got hurt, so we have to figure out the best way to use him. I'm excited about that. Also, when we finally get our hands on Darren (Sproles) and get a chance to really see what his strengths are, how do we maximize that? And then for all those other guys who have been there, it's year two. So instead of them trying to realize or learn (where to line up and where to go on a play), that stuff is second nature to them. I think you can build upon a lot of things we did with the guys who are back, and then you add the new guys into the mix – that's why what we looked like to finish the year will be different (from what we look like this season)."

With regard to Sproles, in particular, he served primarily as a receiver in his time with the Saints, but his particular role with the Eagles has yet to be defined. He can contribute on special teams as a returner and, on offense, whether he is in the backfield, in the slot or even out wide, Sproles is yet another chess piece Kelly will use to put pressure on the defense.

"I know, obviously, he's an outstanding returner and he's an outstanding receiver coming out of the backfield," Kelly said of Sproles. "We have to see, what run plays does he run the best? Is he an inside zone guy, is he an outside zone guy, is power a better play for him? Those are all things we'll figure out when we get our hands on him, but I know, as coaches, we need to be smart enough to get the ball in his hands because he's a dynamic player with the football … I think his versatility and the ability to do different things is intriguing."

With the NFL Draft less than seven weeks away and free agency for the most part settled, part one of the offseason roster construction is complete, but there is still a long way to go. One thing that is clear, however: Kelly is not resting on his laurels from a successful rookie season as head coach, and he feels that everything, even the offense, can be improved.

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