COMMENTARY | Back before he locked out all media from practices, I remember marveling at the atmosphere of the Oregon Ducks' football practices under coach Chip Kelly.
Music blared from loudspeakers; players hustled and bustled all over the field, without much downtime between drills; an air horn blasted frequently to send players to the next station; and the Ducks were always moving, faster and faster and faster, just like they did on Saturdays in Autzen Stadium.
To the casual observer, it looked like chaos. But it was organized chaos, and every little bit of it served a purpose.
Kelly's practices were all about efficiency. Players were often on the practice field less than two hours, and there were no long lectures after mistakes -- those things were typically addressed later in the day, during practice film sessions (which were also short, and efficient) -- and there were seemingly no wasted movements. The Ducks practiced at the speed they played, nearly all of their conditioning achieved while drilling on plays, thereby cutting out the need to waste time on the sideline-to-sideline and end zone-to-end zone sprints that take up chunks of traditional football practices.
The Philadelphia Eagles got their first taste of Kelly's practice approach during mini-camp last week, and needless to say, it was a shift away from anything they experienced under Andy Reid.
"It's different," tight end Brent Celek told reporters. "You're so used to Coach Reid for so long. Even growing up, I saw Coach Reid as a figure of Philadelphia. But things change, and I love what Coach Kelly has brought here so far."
The way Birds running back LeSean McCoy described those early practices, Kelly hasn't left anything back in Eugene, Ore., as far as his practice approach is concerned.
"I think we'll be in the best shape in the league for sure," McCoy told reporters. "Just the fast pace. There's never a time when we're breaking. We hustle to working out, lifting weights, everything. Even the meetings are fast."
Speed and efficiency were two of Kelly's signatures at Oregon, and they were most recognizable when the Ducks had the ball. Because playing fast isn't simply about having fast players, Kelly changed the way the Ducks called plays, using signage and signals and doing away with the cumbersome verbiage quarterbacks typically use to call plays in the huddle (Kelly did away with huddles, too).
So the Ducks developed one-word plays that signify everything from formation to snap count, making their hurry-up offense move that much faster. We don't have to wait until the fall to find out whether it can work at the NFL level; the New England Patriots used the approach for their no-huddle offense last season. Pats coach Bill Belichick picked Kelly's brain and implemented much of what the former Ducks coach was doing at Oregon.
"I would say he expanded it to a different level and it was very interesting to understand what he was doing. Certainly I've learned a lot from talking to Chip about his experiences with it and how he does it and his procedure and all that," Belichick told the Boston Globe in October (check out the article for more insight into Kelly's play-calling method; it's pretty interesting stuff).
Celek was blown away last week by the bits he learned, telling reporters that "it's insane."
"From a communication standpoint, it's going to change the game," Celek said. "Just the way they can communicate plays and get us into stuff that's pretty cool. It's something I never even thought was possible in the NFL. He has a reason why each play is called what it is. And it all makes sense."
We'll see, of course, whether the tempo and efficiency translate to NFL victories in Philly. But in the meantime, the Eagles seem to be embracing Kelly's philosophies and the changes that he's brought to town, so from that standpoint, at least, the Chip Kelly era is off to a good start.
Adam Sparks has followed the Philadelphia Eagles since the 1980s, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2010.
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