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What Is Shurmur's Impact?

Posted Mar 3, 2013

What we know of Pat Shurmur is that he had great success the first time around as a coach with the Eagles, and that he has an entirely evolved perspective now that he's here as the offensive coordintor ...

The Pat Shurmur who coached under Andy Reid for 10 seasons in Philadelphia was largely an under-the-radar strategist and teacher. He had a hand in the game plan as the West Coast offense matured from one year to the next, working with the tight ends and the offensive line.

And he worked intensely for seven seasons with a young quarterback named Donovan McNabb, who emerged as the most accomplished of what was supposed to be -- and didn't become -- the Great Quarterback Class of the 1999 NFL draft.

Shurmur coached McNabb, along with A.J. Feeley, Koy Detmer, Mike McMahon, Jeff Blake and Jeff Garcia -- the quarterback club in Philadelphia from 2002 through 2008. Those were the prolific years of the Reid regime, featuring a well-balanced offense that stressed low turnovers and high efficiency.

Since then, Shurmur has taken his coaching game to new levels. As the offensive coordinator in St. Louis in 2009 and 2010, he helped a young offense make do with limited pieces. Under Shurmur's tutelage, 2009 No. 1 draft pick Sam Bradford enjoyed a prolific rookie season at quarterback, setting NFL records for completions and attempts, and also tossing a rookie-record 174 consecutive passes without an interception. Bradford's 3,500-plus passing yards were second in league history for rookie quarterbacks.

The Rams were challenged putting together enough talent to reach the playoffs, but they offered a viable passing game with Bradford and a strong running game led by Steven Jackson, a Pro Bowl back in each of Shurmur's season in St. Louis.

Shurmur's accomplishments were enough to gain notice around the league, so much so that he was named the head coach in Cleveland in 2011. The Browns weren't a playoff team in those seasons, but let's consider the circumstances. A lousy roster combined with a new coach and the work stoppage stunted growth in 2011. A rookie quarterback, a rookie running back and new ownership made it very difficult for Shurmur to continue with the Browns beyond 2012.

Still, there were some clues offensively that remained from Shurmur's time in Philadelphia. The Browns turned the ball over only 19 times in 2011, fourth-lowest in the league. Cleveland's offense in 2012 was sound from a scheme standpoint, and who among Eagles fans doesn't remember the terrible fright the Browns put into the Eagles in the 2012 season opener? A more accurate, maybe more mature, performance from rookie signal caller Brandon Weeden would likely have been enough to engineer a Cleveland victory.

Anyway, Shurmur’s credentials are strong, and his philosophical background is distinctly different than is the one that Chip Kelly took to reach this point. Shurmur has been, in the NFL at least, a West Coast offense mind, and we very clearly saw Reid’s offense move from a dink-and-dunk, move-the-chains approach to more of a vertical passing game over the years. Kelly, as we all know, is about spreading the field and working his variations from there.

How did these two come together? There was no personal connection, no “old boys” network as so often happens in the league. Kelly knew of Shurmur as all coaches know of each other, and then he invited Shurmur to the NovaCare Complex for an interview that was, according to Kelly, eye opening.

"It was is this too good to be true? And the longer our meeting went on, it was a two-day meeting and when I met with Pat it was that's a great point. We agree on that, and how do you feel about this? And when I looked at our assistants after Pat left, and I was like what do you guys think? We were all on the same page," said Kelly in his press conference the day his staff was announced.

"And I was excited that Pat told me the bottom line is I said, Where do you see yourself? And he said, I just want to win. And that's exactly what I want to do and what we want to do. So that put us on the same page. But the fact that he was here for ten years as a quarterback coach is icing on the cake to me.

"He has a great understanding of this building. And the reputation he left when he left this building, when I mentioned to people that we were interviewing him, you could see their eyes light up. After spending time with him, I could see why. I think he's a great addition.

"I also had thought about it. Sometimes it works out to have a guy on staff that's been a head coach in this league. Pat's office is connected to mine, and I know the door's usually open because I can walk in and say what did do you in this situation when you were a head coach? There are so many bonuses, besides his football knowledge, after meeting him and getting on the board with him is just outstanding, just his personality, his mindset, it was kind of a slam dunk for me after getting a chance to sit down and visit with him."

The two have worked together now for several weeks, long enough to have a feel for the personnel on hand and for the way their offensive backgrounds will blend. We really don’t know what to expect from Kelly other than what his history would suggest, and at Oregon the Ducks were a read-option offense that relied on speed and multiplicity from a mobile quarterback, darn good running backs and effective one-on-one blocking from the other nine players on the field.

What happens, I’m sure we’ve all thought about a million times since Shurmur joined Kelly’s staff, when West Coast offense meets read-option explosiveness?

This is what I think is particularly exciting when anticipating the Eagles’ offensive structure. They’ve certainly got the running backs to execute the read-option offense, which at Oregon was run based. They’ve got the receivers who can catch the ball as it comes out of the quarterback’s hand quickly and make plays in space. They have mobile, aggressive and technically sound linemen. The quarterback question is the biggie, of course, and at the moment the Eagles have two quarterbacks who have a lot of foot speed and mobility (Michael Vick and Dennis Dixon) who more fit the profile of what we think the prototypical Kelly quarterback will be in the NFL. The Eagles also have Nick Foles and Trent Edwards, and neither of them is considered a threat to run the football.

So I’m thinking out loud here: If Kelly wanted to run the pure Oregon offense here, why would Shurmur have been so impressive in the two-day interview they had? And if the Eagles must have, without question, a quarterback who can run the Oregon offense the way it was conducted in the prolific days in Eugene, Ore., then why is Foles even here?

Maybe the answer is that Kelly is going to add a layer of complexity to the offense that we aren’t expecting. Maybe he knows that NFL defensive coordinators everywhere are spending their offseasons studying the read-option offense and are going to stunt the growth of a system that took flight in 2012 with a handful of teams using young, mobile quarterbacks to handle the X’s and O’s and that to be a truly complete offense there has to be more, an in-the-pocket reliability, to succeed.

Kelly says he is an “equal-opportunity”’ offensive strategist and by bringing Shurmur, who has such a different background – in at least what we’ve seen from Shurmur in this league – Kelly is demonstrating his open approach to constructing an offense in Philadelphia.

It sure is fascinating. Free agency begins next week, so we are going to gain a better understanding of what Kelly wants from his offense, and what kind of impact Shurmur’s offensive thinking will have here.

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