Practice makes imperfect, but that's the point for Eagles

Chip Kelly keeps the players moving as the Eagles held organized team activities at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia on May 13, 2013. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Chip Kelly keeps the players moving as the Eagles held organized team activities at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia on May 13, 2013. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 21, 2013

The NFL's collective bargaining agreement apportions the offseason into controlled, digestible bites for the players. Until the full training camps of August, there is no actual contact and the practice days are limited and counted closely.

This is done for the health and welfare of the players, of course, at least in their view, and if it sometimes provides less preparation than a coaching staff might prefer, the league calls that an acceptable swap for getting to keep all the money.

There is no coach in the NFL trying to do more in less time than Chip Kelly of the Eagles. He is one of eight new head coaches and received for that honor an extra three days of practice in the form of an April voluntary veterans minicamp. ( Woo hoo!) Otherwise, the Eagles are trying to slip a lot of coaching through a narrow window like every other team, but, unlike most, everything coming through the window is brand new.

The Eagles open their second organized team activity camp on Monday, kicking off three more days of practice of the 10 allowable for OTAs. The final four days of those camps comes next week, followed by a full team minicamp June 4-6. After that, the players break from official practice until the long grind of training camp. Kelly and his staff, meanwhile, will try to determine what they learned from the cramped spring get-togethers.

"Over the course of time with 10 OTAs and three minicamps, by the time we get to June we've got a pretty good number of snaps where we can start to evaluate and start to slot some guys and see where we are," Kelly said.

The Eagles might not lead the league in very much this season, but they have a great shot at snaps-per-practice. When practice resumes Monday, it will pick up at the manic pace that Kelly dictates, accompanied by loud, pounding music and no time for regret when a formation is wrong or a play is busted. Those regrets are cataloged in the film room. Practice is just a means of collecting that film.

"You see how many reps we get. You see how fast practice moves. So the big adjustment is just the pace we're on," quarterback Michael Vick said. "They don't expect us to get everything right, but they do expect us to learn from our mistakes. [The corrections] come in the classroom, because we've got to keep going."

Kelly is looking for the players who can work quickly, but he's also looking for the players who can think quickly. His offensive system speeds up the game and the decisions come around increasingly fast. It speeds up the game for the opposing defense, too, and if his guys can think more quickly than the other guys, that's where the advantage really lies.

By the end of the OTAs and the June minicamp, Kelly won't have all the answers, but his "seating chart" will have begun to become more of a "depth chart," and the film will reveal which players thrive on the adrenaline buzz of the hurry-up and which are merely trying to keep up.

"Our evaluation is off the film. We'll coach off that and we'll have film forever," Kelly said. "We'll sit down and really dissect it."

The big question, and one that Kelly is tiring of fast - just wait, big guy - is what those evaluations will tell him about the quarterback position, which appears to be a two-horse race between Vick and Nick Foles, but with long-shot status conferred upon rookie Matt Barkley and former Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon.

The most fascinating part of the equation is that Kelly isn't choosing among varying degrees of the same flavor to run the first NFL edition of his offense. He's got a handful of very different options.

Dixon was the prototype college quarterback for Kelly. Vick might be the professional prototype if he were younger and considered a better decision maker. Foles and Barkley are more traditional pocket quarterbacks, without as much mobility as Kelly likes, but possessing great accuracy in the mid-range passing game and a perceived knack for reading defenses.

"The game is about making quick decisions. It's a game of 60 to 70 to 80 four-second plays," Kelly said. "The mission is to be prepared to play a four-second play. You need to have that kind of [he snapped his fingers] to get that done."

What matters most to him? The ability to process a situation in a blink, or the ability to elude a tackler once in a while, or the ability to get the ball a long way downfield, or what? We don't know yet, and don't know how the offense would have to be tailored for each of the candidates.

"The best quarterbacks are the best quarterbacks. We'll find a way, no matter who our quarterbacks are, to put a game plan in where they can be successful," Kelly said.

The new coach was suggesting that the actual name of the quarterback doesn't matter as much as using the film room to figure out his exact skills and how they can be more efficiently employed.

And with that, the Eagles go back to the practice field Monday. Music! Cameras! Action! The limited auditions continue as Kelly waits for the starting quarterback to identify himself.

"You're making way too much of it," Kelly said.

Maybe so, but not for the first time.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, find column archive at www.philly.com/bobford, and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.

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