PHILADELPHIA – Chip Kelly isn't Andy Reid. And that is part of this problem with Philadelphia Eagles players.
Maybe he's aloof. Or single-minded. Or hard to talk to. Maybe he's more concerned with what a player can do for his team rather than whether he's clicking with someone emotionally. Racist? I don't know Kelly well enough to make any judgment like that. But I know enough about Reid to say that Kelly is following a guy who connected with most of his players. A guy who was, in a way, the big teddy bear who ran player-friendly practices and managed a familial atmosphere with his roster.
Maybe Kelly hasn't done that. But Reid did, and from what I gathered from a handful of Eagles sources, that's at least part of what we're seeing now.
"[Kelly is] uncomfortable around grown men of our culture. … He can't relate and that makes him uncomfortable. He likes total control of everything, and he don't like to be uncomfortable. Players excel when you let them naturally be who they are, and in my experience that hasn't been important to him, but you guys have heard this before me."
He later added context with Steelers reporters, saying his remarks weren't meant to suggest Kelly was racist – just that he doesn't relate to players well.
"When you're a player, you want to be able to relate to your coach off the field," Boykin told reporters. "There were times he just didn't talk to people. You would walk down the hallway, he wouldn't say anything to you. I'm not saying he's a racist in any way."
Boykin was stunned by the trade, a source close to the player told Yahoo Sports. He loved being with the Eagles. He loved the team. And from everything I have been told by those who know Boykin, he is a great teammate and a good guy. But he also wanted a shot at the outside cornerback spot. He didn't want to be a slot specialist forever, and despite being 5-foot-9, he believed he had other physical tools that would allow him to compete at that position.
Boykin felt like Kelly never gave him that opportunity, and wondered why. The lack of dialogue was frustrating. And when he was traded, he felt blindsided – another thing that seemingly included no dialogue.
It felt impersonal. It didn't feel like family.
In that full context, the Reid differential becomes a little more apparent with players. Some people – including reporters, players and fans – don't seem to have fully absorbed how Kelly operates. Or they can't accept it. But it's a stark difference from how Reid handled his players.
From how he has been described, Kelly is job and goal oriented to the furthest degree. He is there to coach players. He wants to make them better. He will show them how to improve and succeed inside his system. He will give them the best science and technology, and analytical data to make that happen. He will tell them how to prepare. He will run practices that are high-paced, well-timed and efficient. And he will have an almost Biblical faith in his schematic – both in terms of building a team and daily routine.
Conversely, he may not indulge in deep personal conversation. He may not tell you much about himself. But he will do the job and will believe in you if you believe in his way of doing things. And if you don't fit in the plan, whether by playing style or physical traits, the plan calls for you to be swapped out. It's that simple. If that comes off as cold and machine-like, that's the tradeoff to staying on point and achieving success.
Reid wasn't that way, particularly in his final few years. He engaged his players. He had a sense of humor. He brought his family around the team. His personal life and the struggles that went along with it were not secret. He was often accommodating to his stars and their personalities. His practices were … well … they weren't a daily meat grinder.
In professional football, all of this makes a difference. It causes guys to form specific opinions about their coaches. It's a world built on daily acceptance or rejection, from practice to practice, season to season, contract signing to roster cuts or trades. But guys don't want to talk about those opinions publicly, and that's why this stuff continues to be an unwelcome distraction. Whether it's LeSean McCoy, Tra Thomas or Boykin – who all entered the NFL under Reid and have made negative comments about Kelly – players on the current roster shouldn't be asked to endorse or dispel another grown man's opinion. Yet they have been. And that is both exhausting and unfair.
The kind of fatigue that had linebacker DeMeco Ryans cutting off questions about Kelly and racism with, "I'm not getting into all that. Any other questions?"
I don't know if Chip Kelly will win this season. I don't know if he's a good guy or a bad guy. And I certainly don't know what it's like dealing with him on a personal level every day. But I do know that his personality is very different from his predecessor.
And that is going to be a struggle until his style and his schematic pay off.
Some other observations from training camp …
Rookie playing a role
Cornerback Eric Rowe. If it wasn't obvious before the Boykin trade, it's crystal clear now that Kelly and the Eagles really like the cornerbacks they drafted. And Rowe is right up there at the top. The Eagles essentially traded two fifth-round picks to move up five spots in the second round to get him, and now he's got a chance to be a starter on the outside as a rookie. I thought he might get moved to safety over Walter Thurmond, but cornerback looks more like the plan now. Undoubtedly, Rowe will play a big role. Still, he's going to have to beat out sixth-year veteran Nolan Carroll for the right to start. Either way, Rowe should see a lot of action and is being groomed for a starting position.
Veteran fighting for a job
Matt Barkley, quarterback. He's not fighting for a starting job – he's fighting for employment. Barkley is locked in a battle with Tim Tebow to be the No. 3 quarterback, and it's likely the loser is cut. It has been two years and Barkley hasn't taken the big leap forward that is necessary for middle-round quarterbacks to become starters. One could argue, given his lack of experience, that he hasn't proven he can be even a backup. What is clear is that when you watch Sanchez and Bradford, both appear to be far better. Tebow is also aided by the new extra point rules, which will likely cause teams to go for two points more often. The running/passing combo Tebow offers seems to be a perfect fit for such a niche scenario, though, to take advantage of it, he'll need to actually be active on game day.
Key guys in a contract year
Quarterback Sam Bradford. There's no player who stands to make (or lose) more money this season than Bradford. He could have already signed another long-term deal at this point, but the 2016 payday is too promising. If he succeeds, he'll either net a franchise tag in excess of $20 million for next season, or a mega contract that once again pays him like he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The latter is a fairly good bet for Bradford, who has been better than average when healthy. Considering how Chip Kelly's offense functions, it's within reason that Bradford could have a career year. And that would make him one of the most attractive free agents on the 2016 market (not that he would ever get there). On the flip side, a lackluster year or injury would pull Bradford's earning power back significantly, though he'd still be very attractive to other teams. Starting quarterbacks just never get to the market. And when they do, well … see: Josh McCown in 2015. They have multiple suitors.
Going for one extra point (OK, two …)
1) Well, that was quick – even for DeMarco Murray. The oft-injured running back went through individual drills in the early portion of practice, but then spent 7-on-7 and team work with a trainer as Darren Sproles stepped in as the No. 1 running back. It appeared to be an unexpected development, as Kelly said in his pre-practice news conference that every participant Sunday was expected to be 100 percent. No reason was given afterward for the development and Murray didn't speak with the media (he's expected to do that Monday). Stay tuned.
2) In minicamp, Mark Sanchez had some moments that made me wonder if he could make this a quarterback battle with Bradford. Kelly threw some cold water on that Sunday. Not only did he say Bradford was (as planned) 100 percent full-go, but that translated into all the first-team reps as well. And Bradford looked solid, too. Granted, nothing is carved in stone until we see how each performs in some preseason games. And as always, Bradford has to take some hard hits and keep it together. But all things being equal, the job is clearly Bradford's to lose now.