TURNS OUT, even Chip Kelly is willing to reassess.
This point was driven home more than once Monday, first when Kelly was asked about DeMarco Murray only getting eight carries at New England, one less than Kenjon Barner, and Kelly said Murray, signed for $40 million over five years, is one of three healthy, productive backs right now. Then, several hours later, the Eagles announced the release of wide receiver Miles Austin, who ate up 407 offensive snaps this season while catching all of 13 passes (and failing to catch at least that many, it seemed to exasperated fans).
Another sign of change was safety Ed Reynolds, who entered the New England game with 13 career defensive snaps, and exited having played 79 against Tom Brady and the Patriots. Reynolds, a 2014 fifth-round draft pick, was on the practice squad until Nov. 20.
Murray's situation might get murkier with the expected return to practice Tuesday of Ryan Mathews, the Eagles' most effective back this season (427 yards on 75 carries, 5.7 yards per carry.) Mathews, out since the Nov. 15 Miami game, passed concussion testing Monday and will see an independent neurologist in hopes of being cleared this morning, the Daily News has learned.
"It is an evaluation every day that you're out there (in practice), and you have an opportunity. Nothing's set in stone," said Kelly, who has not been noted for benching or releasing struggling players during the season. Austin, 31, was inactive Sunday in favor of 23-year-old former practice-squad wideout Jonathan Krause. "The bottom line is for us to win the football game, and we felt like they could contribute and help us win the game. I think it helps when you have that youth aspect of it that's really pushing."
Asked if Krause, Reynolds and Barner getting playing time now is a coincidence, Kelly said: "No, I don't think it's a coincidence . . . We don't have to make maneuvers, but they've warranted it in terms of what we've seen out of them from a production standpoint, and how they're approaching things."
"I work my tail off every day in practice and in the offseason," said Barner, whose nine carries for 39 yards were career highs. "You work to put yourself in position so that when your name is called you can perform."
Kelly said Reynolds is "one of those guys that continually you see progress out of him. He's a very smart player and just one of those guys that has earned playing time over the course of the season."
A roster spot opened for Reynolds when Jerome Couplin went on IR with a shoulder injury.
Reynolds showing signs of contributing, as second-round rookie Eric Rowe moves into the starting corner position vacated by Nolan Carroll (broken fibula), could be a big thing for the Eagles, who haven't drafted and developed a secondary starter in a long time.
"We need to get some youth in the secondary, and to be able to develop that as we move forward here," Kelly said.
Murray was asked Sunday about not being on the field in the final minutes, when the Eagles were trying to grind out the clock.
"Things we were doing were working," he said.
It isn't clear that Murray won't continue to figure prominently in the attack; after all, he will carry a cap hit of $8 million even next season, vs. a $13 million dead money charge if he's released. But it seemed most of this year that Murray would get the majority of the carries despite showing less explosiveness and averaging fewer yards per carry than the team's other backs - especially Mathews. Murray has 569 yards on 163 carries, 3.5 yards per carry. Darren Sproles has 234 on 62 (3.8) and Barner, entrusted with the ball only in the last three games, now has 106 on 23 (4.6).
Asked if totaling eight carries (for 24 yards) was frustrating for Murray, the NFL's defending rushing leader, Kelly said: "All of our running backs knew our gameplan going into that game, so it wasn't a surprise to anybody in terms of what we were doing . . . We have to do what's the best thing for the Philadelphia Eagles. So we're not trying to win a rushing championship or a passing championship or a receiving championship . . . We're just trying to win football games."
Kelly reiterated what he'd said Sunday - that the Eagles liked the matchup of smaller, quicker backs Sproles and Barner against New England's big linebackers. Will Murray dominate the carries again against a team with a different setup?
"I think everything is on a weekly basis, depending on who we're matched up with," Kelly said. "Who's healthy has a lot to do with it. Where does Ryan fit in when Ryan gets back healthy?"
We might start to find that one out this week.
Night game in Cards
The Eagles' Dec. 20 home game against the Arizona Cardinals has been flexed from 1 p.m. to 8:25 p.m. on NBC.
Chip Kelly credited Fletcher Cox with "a lot of disruption" of Tom Brady, Cox creating sacks for others . . . Vinny Curry also got pressure, off a career-high 55 snaps . . . Asked about facing LeSean McCoy this week when the Bills visit, Kelly said he hasn't broken down film on McCoy but "I know he's the focal point of their offense, and we have to do a good job of team-tackling him because, obviously, seeing him in person and knowing him, he's going to make the first guy miss, sometimes the second guy miss." McCoy has 792 yards on 173 carries, 4.6 yards per carry. He also has 27 catches for 249 yards.