The Eagles will hold three days of organized team activities this week, which is the NFL's euphemism for voluntary practice sessions that are usually anything but. And while there are collectively bargained restrictions on the nature of the drills and workouts, there is no limit on local speculation regarding what Chip Kelly will learn about his team during these sessions.
It might be he already knows plenty.
One thing I believe he knows is that quarterback Tim Tebow is probably going to be on the roster when the Eagles open the regular season on Sept. 14 in Atlanta. Another thing he knows is that, if Tebow is on the roster, he won't be a mascot or a clipboard holder. He's going to dress and he's going to play.
If there was any doubt of all that, it was dispelled last week when the NFL approved a rule change that increased the motivation for a team to try a two-point conversion after a touchdown rather than kicking for a single extra point. The league's competition committee thought the current extra-point rule - in which the kicks were the football version of a tap-in - had to be changed, and the Eagles were one of two teams that also put forth a proposal favoring that change. The committee went with its own recommendation, and now extra points are the equivalent of a 33-yard field goal rather than a 20-yarder.
The alteration increases the need for inventive goal-line packages and partly explains the presence of Tebow, whose NFL future was not terribly bright. He washed out in Denver for the very simple reason that he couldn't throw the football as well as a starting quarterback in the NFL needs to do. He completed just 47.3 percent of his passes for the Broncos before being traded to the Jets, where he sat behind Mark Sanchez and didn't do much else in 2012. The following season, he was in training camp with the Patriots, but even Bill Belichick couldn't find a way to justify keeping him.
Is Kelly smarter than everyone else, or is he just amusing himself by taking a whack at the puzzle to see if he can solve it? I don't think this is any lab experiment. I think Kelly looked at Tebow's college career, in which he completed 67.1 percent of his passes, and figured he could finagle a compromise between Tebow's pro and college numbers. If he could get Sanchez, who had completed 55 percent of his passes, to complete 64 percent for the Eagles, why couldn't Tebow do the same in a very specific set of read-option play packages designed just for him? There is no reason why not.
Tebow can do a lot of things. He's big and tough. He can run and block. He is the perfect quarterback for a 2-yard conversion situation. Put straight-ahead DeMarco Murray in the backfield with him and let Kelly design away. Put him as the blocking up-back in punt formation and watch defenses trim their return commitment in respect to a possible fake.
"Really, he can create his own role," wide receiver Eric Decker, who played with Tebow in Denver, told the New York Daily News. "I know he wants to be [a starting] quarterback, but he can . . . help a team in many ways [like] a two-point conversion . . . or a goal-line package. He has the athletic ability to be a personal punt protector, and he can play other positions. They'll figure out a way to utilize him if it's going to help them be a better football team."
What makes many people skeptical about Tebow's ability to stick with the Eagles is the question of the game-day roster and the idea that teams don't like to have three active quarterbacks, preferring to use that spot for another position. All of that is true, but I think - if Sam Bradford is healthy and starting at quarterback - it will be Tebow who is active and not Sanchez.
If your starter gets hurt during a game, that outcome is already in jeopardy, no matter who the backup is. And let's not make Sanchez out to be something he's not. He's still Mark Sanchez. Having the usefulness of Tebow at your disposal in a given game outweighs the twin possibilities that: (a) the starter will get hurt; and (b) Sanchez will perform so much better in relief. If the injury was serious, then Sanchez would become the starter, but he adds nothing to a game just standing on the sideline in a ballcap.
There isn't any downside to having Tebow on the roster instead of Matt Barkley. There is the potential for a lot of upside. It is still a long way to September, but Chip Kelly can see things that far away. It will be interesting when he shows them to the rest of us, too.