The Music Man
Chip Kelly bringing a breakneck pace and blaring music to Eagles' OTAs.
FIVE BALLS in the air, music everywhere. Five receivers running different routes simultaneously, each somehow managing to find one of those balls from the clutter in the air and catching it . . .
And not one crash.
"You zero in on running your route and keep your head up,'' Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin was explaining after yesterday's OTA at NovaCare. "And whatever ball comes your way, you catch it. We don't really know what quarterback is throwing to what route. Obviously they have something worked out back there so guys aren't running into each other. But we don't know that.''
For anyone who stood on the sidelines for the previous 14 seasons, there was a Rod Serling/alternate universe feeling to the first-ever glimpse of an up-tempo Chip Kelly Eagles practice. Gone were the big clusters of big people standing around waiting for the next air horn. Gone were the long stretches of inertia interrupted by brief spurts of action, that large, familiar mustached man standing in the center of it all.
Kelly bounced around a lot. His coaches stood on the sidelines, at least most of them did. The loud, pulsating mix of music throbbing from building-sized speakers, which included rap, rock and pop and covered everything from Duran Duran's 1982 "Hungry Like the Wolf" to the Dropkick Murphys' 2005 rework of Woody Guthrie's "I'm Shipping Up To Boston," was interrupted only by an occasional apocalyptic voice that announced the onset of a new drill.
"Period nine . . . Teach'' said the voice, and then the loud, pulsating music resumed and 90 players rapidly reorganized into new clusters and resumed the rhythmic pace.
There were no huddles, very little walking. Three assistant coaches stood along the sidelines and conveyed the next play through a variety of body contortions. Two circles around the eyes. A flap of the hand behind the head. An occasional kick of the leg.
It was funny by itself and even funnier when the coaches' signals seemed synced to the music, and it would have been pure heaven to sit between Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry and watch them watch it, or to hear what Bill Walsh thought.
Who knows, maybe they would have loved it. Lord knows, they too were innovators, guys who thought outside the NFL box of their time. Landry invented the 4-3 defense and the "flex" to combat Lombardi's "run to daylight" philosophy of having his backs run to an area of the field rather than a specific hole. The father of the pervasive West Coast offense, Walsh reversed the NFL culture of run first, pass second, and was an early proponent of scripting the first 15 offensive plays, now also a norm.
Maybe they would have gotten Chip Kelly. Or maybe, already authenticated by their NFL experiences, they would see this as a big bluff, and him as part of a long lineage of college coaches who have underestimated some or several aspects of the big-boy league and failed miserably because of it.
"I think the game is about making quick decisions,'' Kelly was saying after yesterday's OTA was done. "It's a game of 60 to 70 to 80 4-second plays. So once the ball is snapped, it happens at that tempo . . . Everything we do has to kind of reflect what the mission is, and the mission is to be prepared to play a 4-second play."
It all sounds so good and so fun, and no matter what, it will make the upcoming season relevant around here. Already, the recurring NFL discussion is about this coach, this team and about if and when he can succeed. Kelly will be judged quickly, not so much by the wins he accrues but by evidence or lack of it that his is a valid NFL approach.
Already, he has tempered expectations in conceding that he cannot practice in season with 53 players the way he could do in Oregon with 70. But there is no such concession about game day.
"We're so used to getting in the huddle, going back to talk to your coach or getting a coaching point,'' Michael Vick was saying. "There's no time for that. We gotta go. That was my biggest thing [in the first practices], I was looking at coach Shurmur for a tip, or looking back at Chip to see if I did it the right way. But we've just gotta keep going. That's good, because that's what you've gotta do in a game."
It all sounds so good. It sure looked and sounded like fun too yesterday, Kelly scurrying from group to group, handing out fist bumps like candy bars, handling a 15-minute postpractice media session as if it were a drill. Right now, Kelly looks and sounds more like the next Bill Walsh than the next Lou Holtz. But as he said yesterday, "It's May 13th . . . I don't think we play the Washington Redskins until sometime in September.''
Sept. 9, to be exact.
"He's done a great job in making us believers in his philosophy and what he wants,'' Vick said. "But it's still early. We've still got a long way to go. It's a lot of thinking that has to get done. A lot of scheming . . . "
Today on PhillyDailyNews.com, a copy of Chip Kelly's set list from Monday's open practice.
On Twitter: @samdonnellon