With foundation firm, expect Kelly to build even higher

Posted: January 08, 2014

IT WAS a few moments before Chip Kelly was scheduled to speak, and a stream of Eagles players strolled by the publicity room at the NovaCare Center, heading home to begin what they believe is a premature start to the offseason.

It was still a bit too soon to be over the NFC wild-card loss to the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night, but reality had set in with the cleaning out of lockers.

This was so different from a year ago.

At this time last January, the Eagles were a week into the chaos after firing Andy Reid after 14 seasons. Kelly was still the head coach at the University of Oregon, having rejected the Eagles' initial inquiries to replace Reid.

It wasn't until Jan. 16, 2013, that Kelly finally made the commitment to come to Philadelphia.

He wasn't familiar with the players and hadn't assembled a coaching staff.

Now, he has conducted exit interviews with players who made his rookie season as an NFL coach a surprisingly successful one by winning the NFC East.

He and his staff had watched the film of the Saints game and were ready to begin the evaluation process that will they hope will push the Birds down the road toward a Super Bowl championship.

Kelly said he has already mapped out what he and his staff will be doing from now until the last day of minicamp on June 19.

"Oh, yeah, definitely," Kelly said about whether he will conduct this offseason differently from his first. "We're at a different level now.

"Literally last year at this time, I wasn't here. I wasn't an employee of the Philadelphia Eagles. When I did get the job on Jan. 16, I had to put a staff together. We spent a lot of time, and that was extremely important to me, finding the right fit and putting all those guys into place.

"Then at the same time, we're looking at free agency, put in offensive, defensive and special-teams systems once we got our staff completed. Then, we were preparing for our first offseason with our players, what we were going to teach them on Day 1 when they got here on April 1."

All of this was before Kelly was even allowed to interact with any of his new players because of collective-bargaining rules.

"Everything was first time for us. It was our first minicamp, our first OTA, our first Phase 1, our first free agency, our first draft," he said. "All those things are different now. Now that we've got at least a year of experience, it'll be a little bit different here in the offseason.

"I think, for a first-year standpoint, I think we have laid a foundation, but we've got a whole lot of work to do."

With the groundwork laid, we'll get to see Kelly work on the finer details of the game plan he's envisioned for this franchise.

We've seen only the tip of the Chip Kelly system. We won't know what his grand design will look like until he brings in players he's selected to do the kinds of things he wants them to do.

Everything is in place now.

Kelly has a coaching staff that has gone full cycle with these players, from minicamp through training camp through Saturday's season-ender.

Going into free agency and the draft, they'll know this team's strengths and weaknesses and how they want to address them.

Kelly said he thinks he'll have "a ton" of input with general manager Howie Roseman in what players are brought in through free agency and the draft.

"We have to still continue to outline what we're looking for in players, because there are certain players that are great fits, there are other players that are tremendous football players but they may not fit schemewise into what we're doing," Kelly said. "There's a great collaboration in terms of who we're bring in here."

A system will only be as good as the players you ask to execute it. Kelly is the first to concede that the NFL is a "players' league, and it's always going to be a players' league and it should be a players' league. They're the one that are out there. Our job [as coaches] is to create an environment where they have an opportunity to be successful and then get out of the way."

A year ago, Kelly really had no clue what kind of players he already had on the roster.

It's different now. This offseason, we'll see how far Kelly might or might not be willing to push the envelope on ability vs. character.

"I think you have to be thorough in your evaluations," he said. "It's not just height, weight, speed; this guy can do this from a physical standpoint. There are a lot of really good athletes out there that don't maximize their abilities because of maybe an intangible quality.

"What's their passion for the game, how much are they willing to learn, how much are they willing to sacrifice?

"I just feel that because we're not putting together a staff, we're not putting in new systems, we can spend a little bit more time on the personnel aspect of things."

Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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