A new head coach's most urgent task, and sometimes one of the most difficult to accomplish quickly, is to create the right atmosphere in the locker room. A new coach is hired, generally speaking, because a team lost too many games over too many years and when that happens, a losing culture develops.
It happened in the last couple of seasons here. And with a young roster, boy, that can be deadly. How do players in their first and second NFL seasons learn how to win if they are losing too many games? If the draft class of 2012, for example, knows only the 4-12 way of the NFL world, how are those inexperienced players expected to comprehend the subtle differences between winning and losing in this league?
In a very short period of time, and much to his credit, Chip Kelly has his Eagles team believing. He has been a boundless bundle of positive energy since joining the Eagles, and it is not much of a surprise at all that Kelly's personality has seeped into his players' psyche.
Kelly doesn't promote himself. He places the team first. He has said since the start of his regime that everything is about the team. Kelly has done a remarkable job taking the locker room from the depths of 2012 to this point, where the Eagles are 3-3 with two consecutive wins behind them and a huge NFC East game waiting on Sunday afternoon when Dallas comes to town.
There is no better example of the state of the Eagles locker room than the quarterback picture, which has gripped the local media and Eagles fans everywhere since Michael Vick's hamstring pulled on him in the first half of the game against the Giants two weeks ago.
Since then, of course, Nick Foles has thrown five touchdowns and zero interceptions and there has been a lively back-and-forth from fans and the media about who should start and what the future might look like and, well, everyone certainly loves to talk quarterbacks, right?
Well, the quarterbacks aren't buying in. Not even a little bit. Vick and Foles met the media on Tuesday and the very large group of reporters wanted answers to every question you could imagine. The quarterbacks didn't bite.
Vick, for his part, spoke of the "knot" that he still has in his hamstring and the need to have, perhaps, more time to practice all out and gain enough confidence to play his game on the NFL field. Vick is a day-by-day proposition, so nobody is ruling anyone out for Sunday against Dallas. Let's see how he feels later in the week with an increased workload.
Foles, drawn into the conversation, did not enter any dangerous territory when asked about the overall picture at quarterback once Vick is completely healthy. Foles is by nature a conservative quote, and he has been since his first day here. He spreads around the credit naturally, and there has never been a need to "coach" Foles to say the right things.
Vick has been that way, too. It's never really about him. It's about those around him who make Vick a success story.
Both quarterbacks were quick on Tuesday to pay tribute to the "great" picture the Eagles have at quarterback with three very talented players, including rookie Matt Barkley. There has been absolutely no animosity between Vick and Foles since the starting quarterback competition was introduced in the spring, and Foles did not hang his head and mope when Vick won the No. 1 job after a sensational summer. Vick, for his part, has been nothing but supportive since then, and during this time as he is recovering from his hamstring injury, Vick has been right next to Foles, helping guide the second-year quarterback as much as possible off the field.
This is an extremely encouraging sign in the big picture. Kelly has said repeatedly how much he likes his team and this roster. He has challenged them every day with the fast pace of life at the NovaCare Complex and they have rewarded him by playing hard, by staying focused and by improving every week in game situations.
"Everybody has bought in, I can tell you that," said linebacker Connor Barwin. "The program that Chip brought with him is different than what a lot of guys are used to, but we could feel the benefits right away. I know I've enjoyed the change and the way he has approached every day.
"Of course, we're here to win and to be productive, and we're getting there. We know that this isn't where we want to be, but if we stay on the right course we're going to get there."
There hasn't been any kind of culture clash between those couple of dozen players on the roster from last season and the new players acquired via the waiver wire, draft, trade or free agency. The ripples created in the summer have since been smoothed over.
This locker room is a really great place to be, a testament at the way Kelly has integrated all corners of his team into the program.
Three wins and three losses is only part of the story here. While we tend to focus on the short term, Kelly has a long-range vision here, and it's coming together very nicely, thank you very much, in the locker room.
NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THAT AND THAT
- The Eagles will issue their first injury update of the week on Wednesday, updating the conditions of safety Patrick Chung (shoulder), offensive tackle Jason Peters (shoulder) and running back Chris Polk (shoulder). Vick said he practiced on Tuesday and that he hoped to increase his workload throughout the week.
- Where does B.J. Cunningham fit into the mix at wide receiver? Good body, runs pretty well and has good hands. It will be interesting to see if Cunningham can work his way into the rotation at some point this season. The Eagles really liked him in the summer.
- Dallas probably has the most talented group of wide receivers in the NFC, and maybe even the NFL. Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Miles Austin, slot receiver Cole Beasley and tight ends Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar. Look for the coverage players to be seriously tested, and don't be shocked if newcomer Roc Carmichael gets some reps. He played last week when the Eagles went to "dime" personnel. He's a tenacious cornerback who has impressed the coaches enough to move up the depth chart and earn some playing time.
- Trent Cole and Co. have a big test trying to generate a pass rush against an offensive line that has improved greatly. Left tackle Tyron Smith is in his third season and is an excellent, athletic player. The addition of Brian Waters at guard has really aided the cause for the Cowboys. If the Eagles can't pressure quarterback Tony Romo, it will be tough to stop Dallas.