I know it's been quiet around these parts as I've been swamped at my real job. Just wanted to mention one last time about the Eagles Almanac. This is the last week you can pre-order the book. We will put the it up for normal sale later in the summer, but only those folks who pre-order can ensure that they get their copy before training camp begins. Plus, there are bonus extras that are only available through a Kickstarter pledge.
It should be this one by Sheil Kapadia:
We begin to see the new play-call structure. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur stands on the sideline with a walkie-talkie and calls the play into the quarterback’s helmet. But before each snap, every offensive player looks over to the sideline. An offensive assistant plays the role of third-base coach and runs through a variety of hand signals that relay personnel grouping and formation.
One second, he looks like he’s hula dancing. The next second, he’s a bear that’s clawing at his target. This is the system that Brent Celek said is going to change the league?
Thanks to all 220 people who have already backed our second annual edition of the Eagles Almanac -- we've reached our fundraising goal already!
But we know many more Eagles fans are still out there who would love the book. There are only 19 days left to jump in and pre-order your copy to ensure that you get it before training camp. And if you've already ordered yours, make sure to tell friends and family who would like it too!
In honor of the Eagles Almanac kickstarter (pre-order your copy now!), Derek Sarley got back in the saddle to write about Chip Kelly, Eagles, Versatility or Something Like That:
When Reid’s offense didn’t work, it was usually for one of two reasons. Either the pressure was overwhelming his offensive line – giving the QB no time to hit those big plays – or the defense was playing sound, “contain-y” football and his guys just couldn’t execute the short/mid-range game consistently enough to sustain drives.
Chip will have his own challenges to solve – number one being that no one’s going to give him a six-man box to whale away at for more than a couple of plays before they change things up. (At the NFL level, every team has enough speed to do more than sit back and hope.)
It’s this realization, I believe, that’s driving Chip’s desire for versatility. He doesn’t need guys who can add “bonus plays” to his regular offense – he needs guys who can force the defense to let him run his regular offense, even when that’s the last thing the defense wants to do.
Great stuff as always.
Todd Herremans doesn't seem to mind his presumed move back to guard. From Jordan Raanan:
"They don't spend the fourth overall pick on a kid and not have him come and play tackle," said Herremans, who received a text from general manager Howie Roseman and a phone call from coach Chip Kelly after the pick. "One of the things that has always been big for me is my versatility and being able to play other places. I'm sure they'll probably bump me down to guard and see how everything else works out."
And this quote was buried, but also interesting:
"I was prepared to play tackle, I was prepared to play guard," Herremans said. "I think I can probably steal a few more years at guard, but I still think I have three or four really good years of football left."
See also: The Book of Love According to Herr-Dawg
I've rehashed this Chip Kelly statement a couple of times now, but it remains one of the most interesting quotes so far this offseason:
"We are going to go three tight ends in a game. Now, if they go three linebackers, we spread them out and if they go DB's, we smash you. So, pick your poison. Simple game, isn't it? You guys thought coaching was hard. They bring little guys in, you run the ball. They bring big guys in, you throw the ball."
There's a lot to unpack in this short passage, including possible insight into Kelly's overall offensive philosophy: hit 'em where they ain't. It also confirms (as if the Zach Ertz pick didn't say this already) that Kelly wants to emphasize versatility with multiple tight end sets. However, at its most literal level, I think it's a lie: I don't believe the Eagles will base any sort of offense around having three tight ends in the game at once.
It's an easy fib to tell at this point in the offseason, especially when you need to explain away a crowded tight end position. Brent Celek has been an above-average starter for the last few years, a consistent threat in the passing game who isn't afraid of the dirty work. Kelly doesn't want to say that he's looking to replace the veteran leader. Meanwhile, the team signed James Casey to play an expanded H-back role and drafted Ertz just three picks into the second round. One might say there aren't enough snaps to go around if Kelly hadn't used some expert hand-waving.
Alright, so you say, what evidence is there that the team can't or won't use three tight ends at the same time? Plenty. Let's start with current stats. The New England Patriots are considered one of the most tight end-friendly teams in the NFL. Some, like Chris Brown, have even suggested that Kelly's pro offense will look more similar to the Patriots' than his own college spread. Like the Eagles this year, last year's Patriots squad ditched the fullback in favor of more tight ends/H-backs. However, they rarely used three such players at the same time. Looking at snap counts from Pro Football Focus, we can see exactly how often each Patriots tight end was on the field game-by-game. The players themselves aren't consistent due to injury, but in only 9 of 18 games of their games was the second-most active Patriots tight end on the field for even half of all offensive snaps. The third-most active tight end averaged only 15% playing time.
However, even individual play counts don't properly convey how rare it was for the Patriots to line up with all three tight ends. According to the NFL's own game stats service, New England used three or more tight ends on the field together in only 6.4% of all snaps. That doesn't mean that Kelly couldn't play that combination more. It's the most cliched statement of the offseason that we don't really know what his offense will look like. But the Patriots' unwillingness to go to three tight end sets with any regularity underscores the difficulty with such a formation.
Kelly suggests that he can do anything out of it, but that's not really true. Keeping Celek, Casey, and Ertz in the game together means you only get two other skill players. One of them is obviously a running back like LeSean McCoy. Then you get one wide receiver -- presumably DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin. Between the 20s this lineup lacks any ability to stretch the field. The three tight ends are valuable, flexible pieces. They can pose match up problems against linebackers and safeties in the pass game and cornerbacks in the run game. But Ertz is the fastest, and he only runs a 4.67 forty. With only one wide receiver to deal with, the defense can bring an extra man down into the box to thwart both the short passing game and the run. It's not an ideal match up for the offense -- compared to a two tight end set that keeps the defense honest with down-the-field threats on the outside while adding flexibility in the slot that a player like Jason Avant can't provide.
The three tight end lineup is fantastic for one thing: the red zone. Bring a dangerous rushing threat together with a bunch of big targets and the Eagles might actually be efficient down by the goal line. But I remain skeptical that any offense will use the formation much beyond that. Two tight ends should quickly become a bread-and-butter package for this team, and with injuries and substitutions, having three "starters" on the roster isn't a bad thing at all. But let's not get carried away beyond that. If Ertz progresses quickly, the Eagles likely will be looking for a suitor for Celek 11 months from now.
PS: There's an unwanted player out in free agency who has a similar athletic profile as Casey, and might become an even more versatile weapon with some innovative coaching. It's too bad the Eagles have already denied interest.
Photo from Getty.
There's been a lot of hand-wringing over the Matt Barkley pick and what it means for the Eagles, what it means for the other quarterbacks on the roster, and what it implies about Chip Kelly's offense. I've gone through all those same thoughts in my head over the last few days, trying to make sense of the whole thing.
My initial reaction was mostly shock. I had been operating under specific assumptions regarding Kelly's needs at quarterback -- based on his own actions -- and the Barkley selection didn't fit neatly into any of them. Tim McManus said it best:
Kelly has stated on numerous occasions that he is not married to a specific scheme and will cater to his players’ strengths. But a golden rule when reporting on a team is to watch what they do, not what they say. Up until this point, everything Kelly had done was pro-mobile quarterback. He made the decision to keep Michael Vick. Signed G.J. Kinne and Dennis Dixon. Released Trent Edwards. Nick Foles was on an island. And when word got out that the Kelly had already implemented the read-option, you wondered how Foles could compete and survive.
Eventually you get beyond that shock, though, and start to rationalize why Kelly would like Barkley. Maybe we were wrong about what he really wants for his NFL offense. Maybe he really values "repetitive accuracy" more than anything else. While Barkley was undoubtedly a value pick (the team passed over him 3 times), Kelly says the USC quarterback was in their top 50 players overall. This isn't the same as Mike Kafka being selected explicitly as a backup (also see: the Dennis Dixon signing). In fact, we have reason to believe that Barkley is more desirable to Kelly than either Michael Vick or Nick Foles -- both of whom he inherited.
This is where Chris Brown's interesting piece over at Grantland comes in. He posits that Kelly might not be trying to bring his Oregon offense to Philly, but rather import the New England Patriots offense:
In addition to drafting Barkley, among the major moves Kelly made was signing tight end James Casey in free agency and drafting Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, two movable chess pieces to go along with Philadelphia’s other multipurpose tight end, Brent Celek. These moves might be an indication that Kelly’s focus is shifting from the roster of speedy running backs and dual-threat quarterbacks he had at Oregon. Instead, Philadelphia may be looking to mesh the fleet-footed receivers already on its roster with a group of dynamic tight ends. As part of that group, Kelly is likely hoping Barkley can be an extremely accurate, intelligent, intangible-heavy quarterback who can efficiently operate his lightning-fast no huddle.
Brown's take is smart and logical. If Barkley does win the starting job, the offense would certainly cater more around his strengths and the read-option would be relegated to a side show. But the one thing that's tough for me to accept is that there was that much foresight in the selection of a fourth round player. To suggest that the Barkley pick -- which Kelly himself admits he didn't expect to make -- speaks some broader truth about the planned direction of the offense may be reading too much into it.
This is where Kelly's own words come in. Check out what he said on WIP the other day:
Obviously if you can get a quarterback that has great size, is really smart, can run, and do all those things, then yeah, let's go get him. But you don't always get the ideal guy, where in every category he's a ten. You have to value some categories more than other categories. There have been some unbelievable athletes that have played quarterback both at the collegiate level and the NFL, that can throw the ball and run 4.5 and do all those other things. But really, for a quarterback you have to be a great decision-maker first and foremost. Now, if the fact that we can run -- I think of that as a bonus, not as a prerequisite.
This is the most complete answer I've ever seen Kelly give about the quarterback position. He likes to throw around phrases like, "We'll start whichever QB can get us to the endzone." But here he is talking about his ideal quarterback -- big, smart, fast, good decision-maker. These are traits that most teams look for, but Kelly admits that it's tough to get all of them. There's an implicit assertion herein that Barkley is not the whole package, the way someone like EJ Manuel could have been.
Kelly talks about trade-offs, and I think that's a better way to look at the Barkley pick -- as well as his stance on quarterbacks in general. Neither Barkley nor Foles is his ideal starter, so any assumption (like Brown's) that rests on a plan to abandon the read-option is flawed. However, it's clear that Vick's poor decision-making and ball skills put him at a disadvantage as well. Kelly will evaluate the trade-offs with each player and make a choice based on that. If Vick's experience, athleticism, and arm strength trump the strengths of his non-mobile brethren, he'll start and the read-option will certainly be a part of the offense. Or it will go the other way.
Shifting your offense to match your quarterback's strength isn't some foreign concept. Andy Reid went through a bunch of dissimilar quarterbacks over the years: Donovan McNabb, AJ Feeley, Jeff Garcia, Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, Nick Foles. He had a base system predicated on the West Coast offense, but play calling adapted based on who was taking the snaps. Kelly's offense will the be the same way. Doubtless he will start with spread concepts, translating Oregon ideas for use with playmakers like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Bryce Brown. His no-huddle offense (and its unique play-relay system) will be a major factor, especially coupled with versatile weapons that allow the Eagles to take what the opponent gives them.
After those core strategies (a "specific scheme" I believe Kelly is married to), the rest is detail. Without (yet) an ideal all-purpose quarterback like Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck, the offense must make trade-offs. An up-tempo spread can be effective with the read-option or without, with Barkley or Vick. The question isn't who fits best into some mythical version of Kelly's offense -- it's who is the best, period. And we won't know that until training camp.
Photo from Getty.