PHOENIX –** Reporters staked their spots at Chip Kelly's media table more than an hour before his scheduled time to speak on Wednesday. By 6 a.m., long in advance of Kelly's 7:15 a.m. appearance, the seats filled. By 6:30 a.m., it was an overflow. Chip Kelly is a rock star.
Of course, it's been this way for a long time for Kelly, and two seasons as the head coach here have only enhanced the aura. Thus, the packed house at Kelly's table – nearly two dozen reporters and a half-dozen cameras – while other NFC head coaches' tables were moderately attended.
Kelly spoke for an hour, addressing a variety of subjects. He again addressed the topic of the structure of the front office, entertained a myriad of "What-would-it-take-to-trade-up-for-quarterback-Marcus-Mariota?" questions and a lot of very specific, position-related Eagles questions.
In the end, Kelly revealed very little, and that's fine. It doesn't help to talk about intentions five weeks before the NFL draft. And Kelly isn't into hypotheticals, if you didn't pick up on that already. He thinks that the defense is a "work in progress," for example, but if you are asking for a depth-chart analysis or a projection of what a player might be in the season ahead, forget it.
A basic rule of Kelly's World: "You have to earn it. Nothing is going to be given to you."
Kelly was asked if he thinks new Eagle Sam Bradford will be a "franchise" quarterback if he can stay healthy. Kelly's response: "You hope so. But I'm not a predictor guy. I'm not going to put a label on anybody."
There is so much curiosity about Kelly and the way he is conducting his business, and it really is fascinating. He is clearly open minded in his approach to every facet of the operation, he rules nothing out, and in this now-now-now world it's asking a lot to ask people to wait and see how things play out in terms of who plays where and how a scheme is run and the extent to which a player contributes to the team.
The Eagles, and the way they build the roster, under Kelly's edict, are "very specific in what we're looking for. Our guys have done a great job in terms of identifying it." Kelly wants players who have the right measurements, physically and mentally and intangibly, and he has a good handle on how they're going to fit into the schemes the Eagles run on both sides of the ball. The running game on offense isn't going to change schematically with LeSean McCoy in Buffalo and DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews with the Eagles. Kelly runs power, zone and outside zone in the ground attack, and both Murray and Mathews are well acquainted with the way the Eagles run the ball.
With Kelly, everything is possible. Everything is fair game. Every player on the roster is available for the right price if a team calls the Eagles and makes an offer that Kelly can't refuse. Putting Kelly into a box is something that some still do, but it isn't accurate to do so. The Mariota speculation just won't stop until he is taken in the top 10 of the April 30 first round of the NFL draft by a team (not the Eagles, I will continue to insist) and Kelly is having fun with it all.
"It's the silly season. I've said it before. The NFL draft hype is the most crazy thing in the world," Kelly said.
And while it's true that Kelly loves Mariota and that he recruited him to Oregon and coached him there and that Mariota is familiar with much of what Kelly's offensive approach was there and some of the things that have translated to the NFL, the facts are that Kelly has tailored the scheme to his personnel. The Eagles don't run zone-read option plays for their quarterbacks because the quarterbacks who started last year, using 2014 as the perspective, aren't mobile guys. How much did it hurt the offense? Certainly Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez turned the football over too much, but they didn't lack options because they didn't carry the football. Bradford isn't going to run the football in the offense. He's here to make quick decisions, play sound football, deliver the football accurately and play the point guard role in the offense.
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Here's what you need to know: The Eagles are a work in progress in every phase of roster development. Anything, honestly, is on the table. Kelly doesn't venture forth with peeks into the future. The Eagles are going to have weeks of training sessions and the players are going to take thousands of reps and until a player demonstrates his ability on the field and earns the trust of the coaching staff, he isn't going to gain playing time.
Until then, the Eagles will explore every avenue to improve at every position. The focus isn't limited to who plays safety next to Malcolm Jenkins – although, as we've discussed before, players like Jaylen Watkins are going to get looks and Earl Wolff will get his shot once his knee is healthy – or how the offensive line is configured – yes, the team is high on Allen Barbre, who broke his ankle in the opening game in 2014, and he could fit at right guard – or even what the depth chart looks like at wide receiver – Josh Huff has a chance to really contribute in his second NFL season, but he's got to show consistency. The roster is an open document for Kelly.
What's next? With Kelly, we don't know. The Eagles could, or could not, act again in free agency. They could, or could not, move up in the draft, although Kelly is not going to dish away his picks in exchange for a single selection. He's made that very, very clear.
And then when the roster is more robust after the draft, the Eagles will start to see what they have when the players take part in the post-draft camps and then the OTAs and then Training Camp. We're a long way until September, and until then we will hang on every Kelly word and motion, continue to postulate on what he thinks he wants for the football team -- whether we're right or wrong is not the issue -- and obsess over a franchise that is being built with Kelly's vision in mind.