Optimism is running high for the Eagles right now. Fans are excited. Players are excited. Even the media seems to like what is going on. The Eagles added talent in free agency and the draft. There is mystery and intrigue as to what the offense and defense will look like. The Eagles just began full-team Organized Team Activities (OTAs). Normally, there is little excitement in that, but Chip Kelly's fast-paced practices are unlike anything the NFL has seen. The practices were even more interesting due to Kelly's use of loud music. Who knew that a rock concert could break out at football practice?
As fun as things seem right now, we must understand that a lot of work remains to be done. Kelly is just beginning to re-shape the Eagles. It will take time for him to get things the way he really wants them. To put things in perspective, Kelly has not known offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur or defensive coordinator Bill Davis for even five months. Optimism is a good thing, but you must remember the Eagles are very much a work in progress.
Think about the coaching staff for a minute. Kelly is getting to know his coaches and trying to teach them what he wants done. Kelly isn't a standard coach so that means that there is an adjustment period even for them. What they did at previous jobs may not be anything like what Kelly is looking for. Just like the players need time to adjust and develop, the coaches also need that time.
The roster is the area that will get the most attention in terms of change. We've seen several changes just in the last few days. Undrafted players
One of the keys with roster changes is that the coaches must evaluate the players to know who fits and who doesn't. Every practice is a chance for players to show what they can do. It is also a chance for the coaches to see who is struggling to adapt to the new systems. Veteran players will be given more of a grace period because they have an established track record.
Roster building is done over the course of years, not weeks or months. Think about the defense for a minute.
It takes time to build up a unit. The Eagles' great Gang Green defense of 1991 was built over the course of several years. Wes Hopkins was drafted way back in 1983. William Thomas was the final addition, as a rookie in 1991. A player or two was added each year until the defense had been built into an all-time juggernaut. You don't fix a roster over night. It takes time. Kelly, general manager Howie Roseman and vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble are just getting started.
Player development is another huge factor in figuring out the future of the franchise. Think about how different the Andy Reid era would have been if Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook hadn't become elite players. Kelly inherits some very talented players in
If you want to see which teams have the most success, find out which ones can develop talent. Think about the difference in the Jaguars and the Niners. Jacksonville has had about as many high draft picks in recent years as anyone and yet the organization is lacking in talent. Imagine how much better they would be with Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Mike Iupati, Navorro Bowman or Patrick Willis on that roster.
Kelly did a fantastic job of developing talent at Oregon. His recruiting classes were solid, but far from spectacular. Kelly wasn't able to land every four- and five-star recruit out there. He was able to get solid players and then develop them on and off the field. This is where all the creative nutrition and weight training methods paid off. Kelly also did a brilliant job of coaching the players. He and his staff taught them well.
We don't know for sure that the training, teaching and practice methods will work in the NFL, but so far things are going great. The players are embracing Kelly's ideas. Unfortunately, we have to wait for August and September to see the methods on the field and how the 2013 Eagles compare to the 2012 team.
Since Kelly is new to the NFL, you can be sure he'll be adjusting what he does, both this year and in the future. This is very much a trial-and-error situation. Kelly knows what works at the college level, but he'll have to tweak his ideas for the pros. He has already talked about how practicing during the regular season will be different since the Eagles will only have 53 players on the roster. Kelly had 100 or so players in college. The extra bodies allowed you to keep practice moving at a rapid pace. You'll wear the players out if you try the same thing with just half the bodies.
Beyond Kelly's practice and training methods, there will be changes in the offensive and defensive systems over time. Go watch an Eagles game from 1999, 2002 and then 2005. The offenses changed quite a bit. The defense made some adjustments, but not as many. Coaches always tinker with schemes and playbooks.
Kelly has openly talked about adapting his schemes to his players. What you see from the Eagles in September 2013 will probably look different from what you see in September 2015. By that time Kelly will have the players he wants in place. He'll have tested his schemes at the NFL level. Kelly will have honed his teaching and training methods for NFL players. Life will be very different.
Maybe the most important factor of them all is finding a quarterback. The Eagles have an open competition.
We don't know who will be the starter in the upcoming season, who the long term answer is or even if the Eagles' quarterback of the future is on the current roster. This, more than anything, will determine what kind of schedule the Eagles are on. Again, let's go back to the Niners. Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011. They had a current starter in Alex Smith and drafted Kaepernick to be the future. Both guys played well and the team had great success over the last two years. Harbaugh's rebuilding job went much faster because of that. Mike Shanahan's first couple of years in Washington were a mess, but now that organization has Robert Griffin III and life is completely different.
The Eagles might be good at quarterback. Vick is still a talented player. Foles showed good promise last year. Barkley is a mystery man until we see him in action against NFL competition. He certainly walks, talks and acts like a franchise quarterback. I really can't wait to see him in action to find out if the Eagles got the steal of a lifetime or if he fell for a reason. The flip side to all of this is that the Eagles could find out that none of the guys is the answer and the team has to turn around next offseason and make getting a quarterback the focus of the plans.
2013 is just the first step in what should be an interesting journey. Life is good now because all of the changes are fun, but there will be ups and downs. There is nothing wrong with that. We aren't going to truly see a finished product for a year or two. Until then, just enjoy the ride.