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NFL Still Trying To Catch Chip Kelly

Posted Jul 27, 2014

A full season and then some later, Chip Kelly remains a mystery man to many who have watched the NFL so long and who have so rarely seen someone like Kelly in the league ...

A full season and then some later, Chip Kelly remains a mystery man to many who have watched the NFL so long and who have so rarely seen someone like Kelly in the league.

It happens every day now that Training Camp is here: A national reporter visits the NovaCare Complex and spends a day watching the training session and talking to people and comes away with more wonderment about the way Kelly runs his football program.

SiriusXM's Ross Tucker watched for the first time on Sunday and marveled at the tempo and the energy and the use of some funky mechanisms, like the oversized flyswatters used by practice assistants who pose as defensive linemen mucking up the passing lanes.

ESPN's Sal Paolantonio is familiar with the particulars of the on-field work, calling the Eagles "the most efficient practice" I've ever seen.

And then there is Peter King, the esteemed writer who covers the NFL for and and who has been around the league forever. He oozes NFL. Coaches and players say things to King that they just don't say to others.

King's observations with Kelly run deep. A year ago, Kelly was in prove-it mode with King, who wasn't entirely sold on Kelly's ability to make the transition from the college game at Oregon to the NFL in Philadelphia.

Now, the perspective has changed. A 10-6 record and an NFC East title have convinced most -- all? -- of those not quite sure about Kelly that he is, in fact, worthy of the aura.

"Down the stretch last year, I said to somebody that he reminds me, in the second half of year one, the impact that Jimmy Johnson had with the Cowboys in year two," said King. "Remember when, 25 years ago he came into the Dallas Cowboys, everybody said ‘Wait a minute, you can’t win with all of these small, fast guys. You can’t win without size in the NFL.’ Well, Jimmy Johnson proved basically you can win with small guys. At one point he had the smallest and the lightest defense in the NFL and he won. He built a dominating defense.

"I think Chip Kelly, by saying to the football establishment, ‘Hey, I respect everybody, but we’re going to play in a little bit of a different way, we’re going to play very fast. Football is football. The way we played at Oregon, there is no reason why we can’t win that way here.' And by December he was proving it."

The Eagles were 7-1 in the final eight games of last season and reached the postseason for the first time after two seasons out of the mix. The Eagles are now talked about nationally as an up-and-coming team that is being built to play among the elite for a long, long time.

And King is a believer. He sat with Kelly on Saturday as the head coach wondered out loud about the draft process, and the hype that surrounds it. The NFL moved the draft back two weeks to build hype, but Kelly wants to know how chopping two weeks off of the time before Training Camp helps a young player. And what good does it do anyone to set ridiculously high expectations and put 22-year-old kids under that kind of pressure.

“I think he says a bunch of things that I say, ‘I’ve been covering the league so long and I never think of things like that,' " said King, who started covering the NFL for The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1980. "It's valuable to do that and to be introspective about how to make your team better. I just like his approach. He's a very intelligent man who just happens to be a football coach."

Then there is the Johnson comparison. Johnson made the jump from the U, Miami, and won two Super Bowls with Dallas and set up the next head coach in Dallas, Barry Switzer, for a third.

Is Kelly the next Jimmy Johnson? Are the Eagles in line for that kind of success? King makes the comparison.

"He really reminds me a huge amount of Jimmy Johnson. Jimmy was a little more of a, and this is a weird way to look at it, of a partier, of a brash guy and everything, but just in the way they approach the game," said King. "Jimmy won at Miami and didn’t change a darn thing when he went to the Cowboys. Chip won at Oregon and didn’t change much of anything when he came to the NFL. And I think they each had firm beliefs in their system and how they were going to teach.

“I just like people who look at something and say, ‘Is that really going to help us?’ "

Kelly admits to being a "why?" guy and loves to ask questions. He's got his team pointed ahead, working hard to improve every day, if even a smidgeon. "Win the day," is one of his favorite mantras.

And if he has a Johnson-like record of success with the Eagles, hey, where do we sign up?! The point, Kelly has impressed just as much in his second Training Camp as he did in his first year taking the Eagles from worst to first and winning the NFC East. Now they want more, and the national perspective suggests the Eagles may very well reach lofty heights.

"He has a vision and he's going to follow through with his program," said King. "It's really fun to watch someone come in and turn the league on its heels. Chip is doing that."

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