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An Eagles Practice Comes To Life

Posted May 13, 2013

It was 10:51 a.m. on Monday and the computer voice announced the next phase of practice: "Period 2, Individual 2," and they Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" launched the next segment of the football carnival ...

Monday marked the first day the media attended a Chip Kelly practice and it was well worth the wait for the dozens of reporters and cameras that burst through the hallway of the NovaCare Complex and out to the practice fields.

Everyone has talked so much about it, about the tempo, and the music and the energy of the practices. The level of anticipation, then, was off the charts.

So it was at 10:40 a.m. that the practice began and the music started and for the following 1 hour, 40 minutes onlookers were treated to the most unusual and upbeat and completely satisfying Eagles practice that I think I can ever remember.

Players running through drills during OTA’s

There was music, and that seemed to capture the fancy of the media more than just about anything else. The playlist ranged from Nas to Ozzy to Shakira to the Foo Fighters to Duran Duran, Van Halen and even Nicki Minaj. Just as it's unfair to put Kelly and his football principles in a box, it's equally wrong to do so to the music, which is clearly a hit with the players, some of whom were gyrating to the beat and who responded to the up-beat beat with a fast and efficient tempo of football.

If you took it all in, as everyone there did, it was a symphony for the senses. Loud, vibrating, energizing and fun, fun, fun.

As for Kelly, he enjoyed the practice thoroughly. He is extremely involved with the action, whether he's given instruction, or having some fun with his players (he was seen trying to rake the football loose from running back LeSean McCoy) or running a pass route to demonstrate the precision needed in the offense. Kelly, who wore an Eagles baseball cap and not a visor, is right in the middle of things on the practice field.

As anticipated, the tempo was off the charts. What strikes the observer is the number of reps in each practice period. The periods last four or five minutes before the clock winds down, the music pauses, and the computer-generated voice announces the next segment of the workout. Players are constantly on the move, hustling through their drills. There is no station-to-station work here, but to be fair the offensive linemen largely work as a group and the defensive linemen usually work in the far corner on their own.

How different is it? The stretching period has been, for as long as football been football, a time when the players hit the ground and perform a series of static stretching exercises either before or after practice. Here, when the voice booms out "Stretch," "Stretch," the players line up across the field and go through a series of dynamic stretches over a 20-yard pitch on the field.

When the receivers run "routes versus air," -- translation, no defense guarding the receivers -- all five quarterbacks drop back and throw the football to five different receivers. Every receiver, then, is alive on the play, and the efficiency and high repetition total gives the coaching staff another level of knowledge by which to evaluate the players when it comes time to establishing a depth chart and building a 53-man roster.

The old way of practicing is so yesterday. This is the new age, with football meeting performance art. It is a multimedia explosion with the music, with the choreography, with the madness all whittled down to the extreme practice economy of maximizing reps within the time permitted on the field.

It's so much fun to watch and, as the players report, a lot of fun to practice.

"It's a lot of energy and I like it," said offensive lineman Todd Herremans, who lined up at right guard in practice. "Everybody is moving. Everybody is working. We have a lot of work to do and I think everyone understands that. This is a different way of doing things. Completely different than before."

Herremans is the veteran on the block, having been taken in the fourth round of the 2005 draft (one round before defensive end Trent Cole). The Eagles won a lot of games the way they used to do things when Andy Reid was the head coach, so to say one way is right and another way is not right, well, that's not really fair at this point.

What this is, for sure, is different.

"I think everyone is buying in, or at least he needs to be," said Herremans. "This is the program. It's very fast and intense. It's good for us."

As for the football, it was a blast to see. The offense performed far more crisply than usual in the early days of a newly implemented offense. The quarterbacks threw the ball well, and Michael Vick and Nick Foles, as Kelly said after practice, split reps. There is no official depth chart, so take it all for what's worth. Vick, Foles, Matt Barkley and Dennis Dixon are all going to get quite a few reps.

The Eagles have an offense that is varied, at least judged on the sliver shown on Monday. Kelly likes to create favorable matchups and at Oregon he spread the field and won battles in space. Maybe he'll do the same thing here with the variety of personnel packages the Eagles can put on the field. They way the offense rotated players in and out on Monday made it very difficult to separate the depth chart. If you really want to know. Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Arrelious Benn and Damaris Johnson looked outstanding at wide receiver, while James Casey, Brent Celek and Clay Harbor (Zach Ertz is not able to attend OTAs while his Stanford class has not graduated) were terrific at tight end.

Lane Johnson took reps as the second-team right tackle behind Dennis Kelly, so Chip Kelly was right on when he said his first-round draft pick wouldn't walk right into a starting job.

As for the defense, it's hard to say when there is no tackling. Patrick Chung and Nate Allen started at safety, with Bradley Fletcher and Curtis Marsh (Cary Williams was excused after his marriage a day earlier) starting at cornerback. The Eagles showed some 3-4 fronts and some 4-3 fronts. They want to do a lot of different things on defense, clearly.

You want to know what stood out from a "roster battle" standpoint? Kicking in swirling winds, veteran Donnie Jones and rookie Brad Wing provided an indication that we could have a good competition to watch in training camp and in the preseason. Wing has a big-time leg, for your information.

The general theme of the day, after the buzz of the music died down and the tempo of the practice was digested, was that the Eagles have a great sense of purpose. The coaches have a program in mind and the players are going to follow it, at the required speed and focus, or they aren't going to be here. There were few balls on the ground, which usually happens when receivers run poor routes or have their timing not yet established with the quarterbacks.

Kelly is on top of it all. If he's not snapping the ball to the quarterback or talking on the side to his players, he's bouncing from one drill to the next at the same tempo he wants from his team.

Boy, it was enjoyable to watch and, yes, it was different. Andy Reid never allowed the media to sit during practice, or even lean on a railing. On Monday, the media sat on the stairs watching practice, remarking to one another at the many changes to the practice routine.

In the end, though, what matters is wins, and the Eagles are off to a good start with doing things the way Kelly needs. There is energy, there is life and there is a lot of competition up and down this hungry roster, and that is something everyone who watched saw very clearly on Monday.

 

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