Expect Kelly's Eagles to have new wrinkles in their offense

Posted: August 04, 2014

Chip Kelly has said since Day 1 that offense is personnel-driven.

He said it again on his 561st day as Eagles coach.

"The biggest thing that you have to do is identify the skill-sets you have and adjust those skill-sets, and that's what football has always been," Kelly said Friday. "Our offense has changed every year I've been in charge of the offense, whether I was at New Hampshire, Oregon, or here."

And it will change - evolve is probably a better word for it - this year. With new faces at several skill positions and the inevitable rise and fall of returning players' talents, the Eagles offense could look notably different than it did in 2013.

"Hopefully, a lot different," Eagles center Jason Kelce said.

That's right. The NFL's second-best offense in yards and fourth-best in points (establishing franchise records in both categories) will not look the same in Kelly's second season.

Oh sure, there will be an up-tempo element, some zone-read, various package concepts, and a host of other successful plays the Eagles ran last season. But DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, and Bryce Brown have been replaced by Jeremy Maclin, Jordan Matthews, and Darren Sproles - players with different abilities.

And Nick Foles is the quarterback. Kelly didn't know who his starter was last season until the third preseason game; didn't know Foles was the guy until the second half of the season. And Foles is most definitely not Michael Vick.

Kelly kept many elements of his scheme, even the zone-read, with the more immobile Foles. The zone-read isn't going anywhere - because running back LeSean McCoy is so deadly in it - but Kelly would have been remiss if he hadn't spent the offseason catering the passing game to Foles' strengths.

And then there's the jump tight end Zach Ertz is expected to make. Or maybe tight end James Casey becomes a larger part of the offense. Or rookie receiver Josh Huff proves too explosive to keep off the field. Or . . .

"Whatever their strengths are," Kelly said, "try to cater to those."

After a week of training camp, the plays haven't looked much different. The Eagles are installing parts of last year's offense, but it would be foolish to think Kelly is merely hitting the repeat button.

Practices have been open to reporters, and Kelly won't reveal his full hand. Last camp, the Eagles practiced a play with four tight ends. They used it in preseason games. But they never dressed more than three tight ends during the season and hardly ever used more than two at a time.

The new stuff won't start to be installed until after the second preseason game, when practices are closed.

Defensive coordinators have spent the offseason studying the Eagles offense - or so we've been told by national talking heads in search of a narrative to explain why they believe the Eagles won't duplicate last season. But Kelly has generally proven to be one step ahead over his coaching career.

He, too, has had another offseason to study NFL defenses. So while it is true that offenses are personnel-driven, the good ones adapt to any defense. And Kelly has built his with enough depth at each spot to counter whatever any particular defense is intent on trying to stop.

"There is no set offense," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. The former Saint has now seen the offense from both sides, having played the Eagles last season in the playoffs.

"It's very fluid and very adaptable," Jenkins said, "so whatever defenses pose and present, Chip will find a way to take something else."

Last September before the season opener, Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett bragged that he had watched tape of every Oregon game when Kelly was either offensive coordinator or head coach.

How did that go?

The Redskins were overwhelmed in the first half, obviously not prepared for the Eagles' hurry-up offense. Defenses caught up to the tempo eventually, but Kelly just shifted gears and attacked other weak spots as the season progressed.

Kelly likes to talk about having tools for the toolbox. He's collected many over the years to give him that kind of flexibility. But the inside zone-read, for instance, and all its variants will be a staple until it stops working.

That's where execution comes in. Kelly isn't a revolutionary, as he often says. If he's an innovator at anything, it may be his efficient practices that give his teams more repetitions than most. So even if opposing defenses know what's coming, perfect offensive execution will generally win out.

"You're 5 for 5 on a certain pass pattern, you don't say we're not going to call it again because they know it's coming," Kelly said. "They still have to stop you in certain situations. It's still football. That's just the talking season where guys will say they have had time to figure it out."

But Kelly has shiny new tools and another element of surprise. As dubious as it may sound, the Eagles offense may be more explosive in 2014.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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