Along with its speed, Philadelphia Eagles practices are noted for its music selection. If it was not a 35 year old song and associated with the Pittsburgh Pirates, "We Are Family" might be Chip Kelly’s theme song for his teams. The togetherness of his team: the players, the coaches, and even the support staff (a bad seed on the training or equipment staff can be an issue and a charismatic leader can be a benefit) are really important. Kelly wants them all to be one unit:
We’re all Philadelphia Eagles, so there’s no place that’s not sacred or you’re not allowed to go. And I think sometimes in certain times, that’s where problems occur in the locker room, because coaches aren’t in the locker room enough. I think you shouldn’t have to worry about, ‘Well the coaches are here, we have to act any differently in the locker room.’ They should be able to behave the way we were all taught to behave: to be a good person, to be a good teammate, to be a good neighbor. That’s just part of the deal. Just like if I had my way - there’s obviously I think fire codes to it - there should be no doors on anything because you shouldn’t have to worry about what’s going on behind closed doors if you’re doing things the right way.
This is illustrated by the actions of the team. While most teams pointlessly shuffle around the very bottom of their 90 man roster in June and July, the Eagles did not make a move the whole summer. And we see a very close bond among teammates from the actions of the players. Nick Foles took G.J. Kinne with him to the 2014 NFL Pro Bowl, the offensive linemen are tightly bonded, the team quickly put Riley Cooper’s incident behind them, players get Flyered up together, and more.
Enjoyed the hockey game with the fellas @RileyCooper_14 @Jkelce pic.twitter.com/i6knhl9doC— fletcher cox (@fcoxx_91) October 3, 2013
It is one big happy family, with Chip Kelly at the head of it. This is an important distinction from last year's team, and for the future of the Eagles.
Last year much of Kelly’s success came from players he inherited from Andy Reid: career years from LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Nick Foles and Riley Cooper, along with strong offensive line play from Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans. Being successful with an inherited core is not a knock on a coach, of the 10 Hall of Famers Vince Lombardi coached in Green Bay, six of them were on the team before he was. Kelly was fortunate to take over a team with a talented core, and thanks to Howie Roseman’s shrewd salary cap management, did not have cap problems nearly every team has after a roster purge like the Birds did last year. And this is a core Kelly chose, he turned down offers from other teams.
But Kelly’s own additions were also factors in 2013, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Bennie Logan and Earl Wolff made impacts in their rookie years, Connor Barwin was a revelation, Donnie Jones turned a weakness into a strength and Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams stopped the hemorrhaging in the Eagles secondary. There were misses, Patrick Chung was awful and Isaac Sopoaga was ineffective, but nobody is perfect. Still, the transition from Andy Reid’s team to Chip Kelly’s was, like everything Kelly does, fairly quick.
There are some who criticize Kelly for his team being a little too his, preferring Oregon players whenever possible. To an extent, that criticism is fair. Will Murphy was not even a starter at Oregon but once again gets a practice squad spot, Brandon Bair is a 29 year old who just now made a 53-man roster after three seasons of bouncing around practice squads, and Jeff Maehl's four receptions last season were his first after three years in the league.
But these are all bottom of the roster players, none of them made the team over clearly better players. Murphy's presence on the practice squad is near inconsequential, six of the eight practice squad players from last year are no longer with the team. As a backup to a pair of very good starters, Bair's playing time will be extremely limited, and he was a part of the Raiders and Chiefs before joining the Eagles. Jeff Maehl has been in the league for three years, the teams he was on have gone 32-16 with three division titles. Gary Kubiak must have been wrong to keep him too. The cries of "#DuckBias" seemed to have picked up after the Eagles drafted two Oregon players, Josh Huff and Taylor Hart; and because the biggest whipping boy of them all, Casey Matthews, remained on the roster.
But Matthews was drafted by Andy Reid and if not for Travis Long tearing his ACL likely would have been cut. Kenjon Barner, Dennis Dixon, Josh Kaddu were drafted by other teams before becoming camp cuts by Kelly. We know that Kelly wanted Taylor Hart in the 3rd round (and our own Dan Klausner gave Hart a 3rd round grade), but Howie Roseman accurately predicted to Chip that he would be available in the 5th, and drafted him there. Josh Huff both fills a need at kick returner and brings a big play pedigree that Kelly craves. And last year he drafted a grand total of none of his former players, despite the opportunity to do so, passing on Kiko Alonso, Barner and John Boyett. In 1989 Jimmy Johnson spent a supplemental 1st round draft pick that wound up being the #1 overall in 1990 on his college QB, Steve Walsh. That was a truly terrible pick, but Johnson did pretty well for himself in the long run. Tony Romo signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in part because then-offensive coordinator Sean Payton was, like Romo, an Eastern Illinois alum. Mike Shanahan tried to sign him to the Broncos for the same reason.
Part of the notion that Kelly is biased towards Oregon players is because he has no prior NFL experience. Nearly every coach brings in a few of his former players. They just happen to already be NFL players because the NFL is where they previously coached them, so people do not critique the moves as harshly. Andy Reid brought ex-Eagles Chad Hall, Akeem Jordan and Quintin Demps to Kansas City; Gus Bradley added ex-Seahawks Winston Guy, Justin Forsett, Marcus Trufant and Will Blackmon, plus Stephen Williams and John Lotulelei after they were cut by the Seahawks last year; Bruce Arians brought in Rashard Mendenhall, Jerraud Powers, Bradley Sowell, Robert Hughes and Teddy Williams from his days in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis; Mike McCoy imported Eddie Royal and Chris Gronkowski from Denver; and Rob Chudzinski brought former Panthers Armanti Edwards and Gary Barnidge with him. Doug Marrone did not bring in any of his former players, but he did have as many Oregon players as the 2013 Eagles did: three. And that is just Chip's fellow new coaches last year. Coaches bringing in their ex-players happens all the time, but when their only experience with them is in college, it looks like a different kind of preference. When it is former player on an NFL team, the shouting over having teacher's pets is not nearly as loud, if at all.
Having some of his old players drives home the point that Chip cares greatly about having the right group of players—his players, his people. After all he did not bring in every former Duck, Cliff Harris is still out of a job, LeGarrette Blount was traded last year and a free agent this year, Walter Thurmond, T.J. Ward, Geoff Schwartz, Jeremiah Johnson, Mark Asper and David Paulson have also been available. He is not just bringing in anyone and everyone who played for him.
He is bringing in only those who can help, no matter where they went to school. The Eagles have four Cincinnati Bearcats on the roster and eight former Houston Texans have been on Kelly's rosters. Over half the 2014 roster, 32 players, are new additions since Kelly took over. The inherited players that remain do so with his approval. No one is still on the team because they were too expensive to cut, because they were a draft pick the team has an attachment to, or because they were just too popular to get rid of. Those that are gone either could not cut it on the field or, just as importantly to Chip, off it. Those who bought in and performed, stayed. DeSean Jackson was unceremoniously dumped and Evan Mathis was allowed to see if anyone would trade for him, while Riley Cooper, another in a long line of Chip’s reclamation projects, was re-signed before free agency.
Last season, Kelly played the hand that was dealt to him, and played it well. Now, he enters the season with the deck he chose. As we have seen before, Chip Kelly knows what he is doing, so if you trust in Chip as his players do, then there is very good reason to believe he has a pretty good plan.