Kelly's former players feel at home with the Eagles

Posted: August 28, 2014

THE EAGLES' locker room "feels like home," said linebacker Josh Kaddu.

Home? Kaddu is a former Miami Dolphin, signed last winter, who dresses in one of those temporary stalls on wheels set up in the middle of the room. He went to high school in Vacaville, Calif., which resembles South Philly not in the least.

But Kaddu attended college at Oregon, the alma mater of no fewer than nine of the 75 remaining Eagles, as they prepare for their preseason finale tomorrow night against the Jets.

"We get jokes from the guys here and there, but nothing too serious," said wide receiver Will Murphy, who walked on at Oregon and says he never had a one-on-one conversation with Chip Kelly - until the coach called Murphy with an NFL invitation, Kelly having moved from the Ducks to the Eagles last year.

"Sometimes it feels like we're just back in Eugene [Oregon] doing the same thing, because coach Kelly has us on a very similar schedule," Murphy said.

"He's the same coach he was back then, with the same philosophy, but maybe a slightly different approach," Kaddu said. "He's dealing with a different group . . . boys to young men. He handles things slightly differently . . . putting more of the responsibility on us."

Murphy noted that defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, assistant offensive line coach Greg Austin, assistant special teams coach Matthew Harper, and assistant defensive backs coach Todd Lyght all coached at Oregon under Kelly. Defensive quality control coach Michael Clay was an Oregon linebacker during Kelly's time there.

"So it's a lot of familiar faces. It made the transition for me really easy, coming from college to here," Murphy said.

This is not Kelly's favorite subject. The first time it came up, he noted that Oregon has been a pretty good team (46-7 in his tenure), and that he likes having good players. (Yet, Alabama went 49-5 while Kelly was at Oregon, and only three former Crimson Tide players are on the Eagles' roster.)

Yesterday, a reporter wondered whether part of Kelly's Oregon attachment was the fact that those players are familiar with his practice pace, which can take some getting used to if you haven't experienced it.

This approach failed to warm the cockles of Kelly's heart.

"Yeah," he said.

Someone asked whether he might elaborate.

"Yes."

So, does he feel more comfortable . . .

"You can delve all you want," Kelly said. "That's not the reason. We don't bring guys in here because they know how to practice. We are trying to get the best football team out there, and see what happens when we get to 53."

Yet, you look at a guy such as Murphy, 6-2, 200, who said yesterday he never envisioned playing in the NFL, and it seems as if the reasons he is here must surpass raw talent - Kelly values his work habits, his leadership, something beyond his 4.55 40 (down from 4.82 early in his Oregon career).

"My whole goal in college was just to get a scholarship my last couple years. After that, I did pro day just for fun, and got a call randomly from coach Kelly before rookie camp in the spring," Murphy said.

Murphy spent most of last season on the Eagles' practice squad. Some people who watched him in college might be surprised by that, or surprised even that he survived the cut to 75 this week - Murphy's senior year was the only time he started at Oregon, catching 19 passes for 181 yards. But Murphy excels as a downfield blocker, an important attribute in Kelly's run-based offense.

"When I played at Oregon, I got a lot of experience blocking," he said. "It seemed like we had one main receiver - when we had [current Eagles third-round rookie Josh] Huff there, that's the guy we would get the ball to. Blocking was the best way you could contribute right away."

Huff said he isn't surprised to see Murphy in an NFL locker room, because he knows how hard Murphy works, and because "Chip always said, 'If you don't block, you don't get the rock.' "

It's undeniable that Kelly's former Ducks understand what's important to him.

"Chip's familiar with them. He knows what type of players they can be," said linebacker Casey Matthews, the only Eagle-Duck who predates Kelly's arrival. Matthews was a fourth-round pick in 2011. "I don't know what the record is for how many people from one [college] team, but this has to be up there. Again, he's familiar with everyone who was there, [they're familiar with] the practices and how he runs things . . . Obviously, you have to be something of a football player. He's not going to pick up just anyone. It's a rare thing, a cool thing to see. We'll see what happens."

That point about seeing what happens is important - the Duck flock surely will be reduced in the trim to 53, at least some of it released into the practice-squad habitat. Right now, there's Kaddu, Murphy, Matthews, Huff, running back Kenjon Barner, nose tackle Wade Keliikipi, defensive end Brandon Bair, defensive end and fifth-round draftee Taylor Hart, and wideout Jeff Maehl. Figure Huff and Hart, the two draftees, make the team. Ditto Bair, who has had an excellent preseason.

Matthews has been here 3 years, but it's no secret the Eagles would like to upgrade at inside linebacker. His status might depend on who gets cut elsewhere. The rest all have practice-squad eligibility, under the new rules, though Maehl would qualify for only one of two special spots added last week, for players with up to 2 years' experience. Maehl has played in 19 games with the Eagles and Texans.

Several Eagles who didn't go to Oregon said they had no idea there were nine ex-Ducks quacking about. But some do know, obviously.

"You always get a hard time about that, but it's just something you roll with and have fun with," said Bair, who spent last season on the practice squad. His performance this preseason, in which he showed mastery of Azzinaro's two-gap technique, probably kept the joking around his locker to a minimum.

Center Jason Kelce said he wouldn't kid; for one thing, he figures the Eagles are the only NFL team to have four starters from his alma mater, Cincinnati (Kelce, Brent Celek, Connor Barwin and Trent Cole).

"He probably knows 'em, trusts 'em. I think a lot of coaching in general comes down to being able to trust your players, having players that are accountable to running your systems and doing the right things," Kelce said.

"I wouldn't call it an advantage," Bair said. "Maybe even a disadvantage, because you're held to a higher standard because of the relationship you had before, and you're here because he trusts you and knows how you work . . . You've got to make sure you stand up for the person you are, and that's why you're here."

Running back Chris Polk played for Washington, a close Pac-12 rival of the Ducks. Does he mind having so many former bitter enemies as teammates?

Polk said he does not.

"It's not where you're from," he said. "It's where you're at."


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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