Eagles head coach Chip Kelly likes what he sees

ED HILLE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eagles GM Howie Roseman (left) introduces Isaac Sopoaga (center) and James Casey.
ED HILLE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eagles GM Howie Roseman (left) introduces Isaac Sopoaga (center) and James Casey.
Posted: March 15, 2013

THE TWO GUYS the Eagles introduced Wednesday at NovaCare, James Casey and Isaac Sopoaga, might not be huge pieces of the puzzle Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly are assembling.

But they, and the three other free agents the Birds have signed so far, offer clues about the new regime, what it values and where things might go from here.

"I think with the guys that we just acquired, probably the common theme is not only are they outstanding football players, but they're outstanding off the field, too," Kelly, the new coach, said. "It takes a lot to be a professional football player, and if you're not all in, 24/7, 365, then it becomes very, very difficult. Kind of identifying who we wanted to become part of the Eagles organization, that was just as important as how fast are they and how strong are they.

"You've got two guys sitting right next to me that we're excited to add to the group of people we have now, two outstanding quality guys that are really going to be tempo-setters for this football program in terms of how we want to practice . . . two guys that I think will become really, really quickly fan favorites here in Philadelphia."

Sopoaga, a nose tackle, certainly set a tone if not a tempo, when he declared: "We are here to hunt. We are here to win. We are here, and I believe and I promise that we are going to shock the world."

It's clear that in Sopoaga and Casey, Kelly has found two veteran players who believe wholeheartedly that Kelly can transplant the success he enjoyed at Oregon to the NFL. Presumably, we will hear similar testimonials Thursday from safety Patrick Chung and corner Bradley Fletcher, scheduled to meet reporters at NovaCare at 4 p.m.

Casey, a fullback and tight end who signed for 3 years and up to $14 million, made it clear he had plenty of other options, but that he wanted to see what he could do in a Kelly-style offense, even if we don't really know yet what the NFL version of that will be.

"I think I'm hopefully going to get some opportunities in the offense these coming years, and it's just I think the best place for me to be able to showcase what I can do . . . Once I knew the Eagles were interested and they made an offer, it was a perfect fit for me," Casey said.

"It's almost like you kind of got a new toy, when there's a lot of different spots you can put him in, because he's got a background in it, and he's extremely smart, extremely intelligent," Kelly said. "His versatility is really one of the keys to us acquiring him. He was a guy we targeted right away when free agency started, a guy that can really come into our program and have a big effect on what we're going to do.

"I think the versatility that you can present to defenses is when you have a certain grouping in a game, that's not only one thing you can do . . . when you watch the Patriots line up Aaron Hernandez all over the place, is he going to be at tight end, is he going to be at receiver, is he going to be at running back, it makes it very difficult for the defense. They don't know at the beginning of the play where people are going to line up and what they're going to do. It keeps them on their toes.

"We want guys who can do that. You really get pigeonholed when you have one dimensional players, and when you do, it makes it a little bit easier for defenses to go out there and understand what's going to go on in certain formations."

General manager Howie Roseman told reporters that Casey, Sopoaga, Chung, Fletcher and reserve linebacker Jason Phillips were the guys the Birds targeted going into free agency. Clearly, the bazaar remains open, and the Eagles are expected to continue shopping, but for now, Roseman said they have done what they set out to do, with these signings. Another former 49er defensive lineman, Ricky Jean-Francois, left NovaCare Wednesday night without a contract, bound for a visit with the Colts.

Asked about the rush of signings, Roseman said in last weekend's new pre-free-agency negotiating period, "We didn't really know what was going to go on. I think what you saw after 4 [Monday] was people realized that free agency is a week later than it normally is, you've got the owners' meetings coming up [March 17-20], which normally starts the transition to the draft, and people want to figure it out quickly, so that's why there's so much action quickly. You were able to have some conversations with agents during the 3-day period, but it really kicked into gear once that 4 [o'clock time] started, and we were finding people that we had really targeted and the guys had looked at us as possible fits as we went through this 3-day window."

Looking at the roster right now, it sure seems like the biggest thing the Eagles still need is another corner. They have jettisoned both 2012 starters, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and the depth guys there couldn't get on the field last season even when Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha were setting records for futility. Fletcher is one guy. You don't want to go into the draft feeling you have to select a starting-quality corner.

The market at corner has moved a little more slowly than at some positions, perhaps because there are plenty of veteran names, not a lot of real difference-making talent.

"In free agency, when you have a glut at positions, it goes one of two ways," Roseman said. "Guys say, 'I'm going to go get one,' and then all of them go really quick, and then other times it backs off a little bit, and then it continues to back off. We're still just 24 hours into free agency."

It's clear that the Eagles place some value on known quantities. New player personnel vice president Tom Gamble came from the 49ers, with strong ties to Sopoaga (and Jean-Francois, even though he didn't sign.) Chung, given a 3-year, $10 million deal, was an Oregon star when Kelly was the offensive coordinator there.

Roseman said Chung, the 34th player taken in the 2009 draft, who has battled injuries and inconsistency, was an up-and-comer going into last season.

"For one reason or another, he did not play as well as he'd played in the past," Roseman said. "Sometimes that happens in a contract year. Sometimes you're pressing, sometimes you're trying to make every play.

"We talk about knowing somebody - he was with [Kelly] and a couple of our other coaches. That helps. When you go into free agency, it's like an arranged marriage by some aspects, because you've never lived with that person, never really dated them, you've seen them from afar."

It's that way for fans, with the new regime. Each new move tells you something you didn't know before, gives you at least a glimpse of what might be in store.

On Twitter: @LesBowen

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