Can Birds go at warp speed for the long haul?

Running back LeSean McCoy scampers for yardage against the Redskins. Could McCoy and the Eagles run out of gas in a long season playing a hurry-up offense?
Running back LeSean McCoy scampers for yardage against the Redskins. Could McCoy and the Eagles run out of gas in a long season playing a hurry-up offense? (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: September 14, 2013

Now that the Eagles have revealed their accelerated tempo on offense, curiosity abounds about whether they can sustain that pace through 16 games. This is one of the pressing questions of the Chip Kelly Experiment, although it's one that hasn't been a concern yet.

College is different than the NFL. There are more players and fewer games in college. But Kelly still has one inherent advantage: He has spent months preparing his team for a certain style, when other teams spend one week to prepare for the Eagles.

"I think our teams were always the freshest teams when we played, by and large," Kelly said of his time at Oregon. "When we prepared, we had a weekly schedule that we followed almost religiously in terms of when to work and when to recover and whatnot. So we have a plan in place that we put in place in April that's built for the long haul."

The Eagles' tempo will become even faster. Kelly wants to clean up the post-play mechanics of getting ready for the next snap. That includes locating the official to give him the ball.

Once the ball is set, Kelly needs to communicate the play to his assistants and players on the field. Kelly said he can "quickly" communicate the play, but he doesn't have a precise time in which he typically does it.

"We never look at the clock when we're calling plays right now," Kelly said. "The only time we would look at the clock is if it was getting down in the play clock and we've got to get something in, and that's more of a four-minute deal."

Kelly emphasized that the Eagles "are not playing fast for the sake of playing fast." So the coach needs to determine the play he wants for the down, distance, and hash mark.

"I could call plays rapid fire, but if we are on the 1-yard line, I'm not going to call four verticals because there's only one yard to go," Kelly said. "So you try and assimilate from where we are on the field, how far was the gain . . . and where we are in the process of in the game itself."

There's also the issue of substitutions. They slow the game down. It's the catch-22 for Kelly, who wants to play fast, but also need to get different players in the game. Kelly said there are a "million" reasons for the team to substitute.

The first reason is fatigue. If he senses a player is tired - or wants to guard against a player getting tired - then there would be a substitution. This is what happens when the Eagles put in Bryce Brown for LeSean McCoy.

Then there are plays that requires different formations - four receivers instead of three, for example - or packages where he wants a different player for a specified skill. So they could have a two-tight end set that requires Brent Celek and James Casey instead of Celek and Zach Ertz.

"Sometimes we are changing an entire group," Kelly said. "Sometimes we are changing our presentation." 

Substitutions can also neutralize some of the mismatches on the field, because it allows defenses to put in fresher bodies and match up personnel.

But there's no telling how the Eagles will come out in a game - with which personnel or what plays they will run. Kelly doesn't even know, because he doesn't script the first 15 or 20 plays like some coaches. Instead, the Eagles script situations throughout the game. So there are certain plays for first downs and second downs, for third and short, third and medium, and third and long. There are calls for the red zone. There's a way to start the game and a way to play late in the game.

The Eagles must improve how to hold a lead late in the game. Several players admitted they took their "foot off the pedal," acknowledging that the pace was not as accelerated. Kelly said he must look at when he must start managing the game, and that he tried to slow the game in part because the clock runs in the NFL.

"Regardless of what league you're in or where you've coached, you can't score too many," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "Obviously there's a component at the end of the game when you're ahead where every Eagle fan wanted that clock to run. I think what's important is you play efficient football."

Fletcher still out

Cornerback Bradley Fletcher missed practice again with a concussion. As of Thursday afternoon, Fletcher had not taken the imPACT test, which is a computerized test that measures whether a player has reached a baseline level. . . . Tackle Dennis Kelly (back) was a limited participant in practice. Cornerback Brandon Hughes (hand) was a full participant. . . . Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was named in a Yahoo report as a player who accepted improper benefits while in college at Mississippi State. Cox was aware of the report but declined to comment. He confirmed that he knew the player who was alleged to have been a go-between for agents and SEC players, and they had a relationship since high school before Cox was a college star. Cox said the story was not a distraction.


Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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