The adjectives you hear a lot after Chip Kelly's first open practice with the Eagles are the words "wild", "loud", "circus-like"… I tend to look for the "method" in what looks on the surface like a free-for-all, but in reality is a finely orchestrated cannonade of events.
First let's stay on football. I'm going to structure the football-only observations according to NJ.com's Jordan Raanan's notes on what he saw from 1st Team, Second Team and Third Team drills. It was the first time under Kelly the full 90-man roster was at the NovaCare Complex to work. Almost everyone was present. Only Cary Williams (marriage) and Jordan Poyer and Zach Ertz (NFL rules) did not participate.
Nate Allen – The fourth-year safety was running with the first-team defense alongside Patrick Chung. After a disappointing season where he lost his starting job and doubt about his future bubbled to the surface, it's a gigantic personal positive that the new Eagles regime thinks enough of him to place him with the starters ahead of Kenny Phillips.
Nick Foles – Kelly wasn't lying. Foles and Vick were splitting first-team reps. That gives the second-year pro a legit opportunity to win the starting job.
Dennis Kelly – The second-year offensive tackle was the first-string right tackle. It may have to do with the Eagles desire to bring first-round pick Lane Johnson along slowly, but it's still an opportunity for Kelly to show what he can do working alongside the starting offensive linemen, including Todd Herremans, who has officially been shifted from right tackle to right guard.
Curtis Marsh – Cary Williams got married on Sunday. He wasn't at practice. Marsh, who was buried on the depth chart last season, was next in line and worked with the first-team defense. That he's ahead of anyone on the depth chart after last season is an encouraging sign for the third-year cornerback, who at 6-foot-1 and 197 pounds seems a better fit in the new Eagles defense than the previous version.
Arrelious Benn – The Eagles traded for Benn this offseason. He seemed to be working in with the starters while Riley Cooper was running with the backups.
Brandon Graham – Trent Cole and Connor Barwin worked with the first-team defense. Graham was strictly with the second team. While not unexpected considering Cole's past accomplishments and Barwin's versatility and experience in a 3-4 defense, the 2010 first-round pick looks like he has something to prove to the new coaching staff.
Riley Cooper – Benn already appears to be ahead of Cooper. The fourth-year Florida product will will need a strong offseason and training camp to remain in the wide receiver rotation.
Vinny Curry – The 2012 second-round pick was moved this offseason to defensive end in the Eagles' new 3-4 scheme. He begins behind former undrafted free agent Cedric Thornton.
Okay, it's impossible to project individual grades or future results based on one 2-hour glimpse of a Day One-Full Team OTA practice that was essentially a PR show…and we've got months before the first real hitting or contact is introduced. So don't have a hissy-fit over Jordan Raanan's "rankings" from this practice— even Raanan knows those rankings will change faster than the weather around here lately.
Kelly is bringing something different to the concept of football practice.His practices are a 21-period whirlwind that include "tempo" and "teaching periods." In the tempo periods are offensive, defensive and special teams drills practiced mostly at game speed. The teaching periods consist of individual position-specific drills occurring simultaneously on multiple fields with hands-on coaching.
No matter the "period," everybody seems to be in constant motion. Whether it is off on the side fields or behind the line of scrimmage, players are perpetually busy. There are rarely times when they are standing around waiting for their turn or rep to arrive. At these practices, there are enough reps to go around.
And that's the method to the whirlwind 21-period technique–NO ONE STANDS AROUND WAITING FOR REPS. All 90 guys are involved in something that is designed to make them better or smarter. Even player refreshment and hydration are scheduled events with their own theme music…
Having been to a fair number of Ravens and Eagle practices in my day, I can assure you there was a lot of standing around by a lot of players. The rationalized explanation was you could learn a lot by watching others. But if you were trying to make a team or win a position, you had to wait around for whatever precious reps you could get. Usually those few reps were not enough, and hardly ever enough to make a real impression.
"More than anything else, Kelly's practices differ from the norm in their multiplicity. There are so many things going on at once. For instance, when the receivers run routes against air, rather than one quarterback throwing a pass to one of the receivers, Kelly has five quarterbacks throwing passes, one to each receiver. More than a football practice it resembles a finely orchestrated football ballet."– Jordan Raanan
And, of course, there is the music, a staple of Kelly's famous practices at Oregon. The music consists of four genres, all with significant up-tempo beats. Kelly is not involved in the selection of the playlist. That is left to members of his support staff that came over from Oregon. They are given the task of putting together the daily playlist from a selection of songs that meet certain criteria (likely beats per minute). It's a very pop-heavy mix that on Monday featured artists Flo Rider, Pitbull, Nas, LMFA, Kanye West, Rihanna, Dropkick Murphys, Queen, Tupac and Dr. Dre and Nicki Minaj among others.
There is a stop clock strategically placed in the middle of the three NovaCare Complex fields that denotes the current period and amount of time remaining in that period. When certain periods end, a male Siri announces what's next. In a very robotic and computerized tone he says, "Period 17. Team first and second down." Or "Period 19, teach." And Mr. Siri repeats everything twice for effect and clarification.
When the Eagles run 7-on-7 drills (scrimmages without linemen) or anything involving offensive plays, there are coaches on the sideline constantly signaling, rarely taking a second to rest."The concept is after you run a play you look to the sidelines and you get the signs so you know the plays," running back LeSean McCoy said. "Everything is kind of sign language."
Sign language was never in Big Red's binder. This is all new to the Eagles players. Everything from the way they practice, to the way they eat, to the way they stretch, to the way they sleep, to the way they call plays plays is different. This is the Chip Kelly way. This is the Chippa practice. And he insists it's not just random wackiness.
"There's a rhyme or reason to what we're doing, time on task versus time teaching, and I think there's a good balance of that," Kelly said. "We want to get them in and get them out. But we also have to get a certain amount of work in."
I'm starting to get the theory of the Chippa practice. And nice to have a home-grown crew of techies and roadies at your service to make all the electronics and sound gear come together.
As an amateur player I used to HATE standing around while the bigger and better-known players took all the reps. So naturally I am liking the early reports from the Chippa practice method…
Can you imagine if Kelly actually turns the Eagles into a big winner, all the while using his unique practice methodology, how every team in the league may begin practicing like this? That would be something…