LOS ANGELES -- Of all the reasons Chip Kelly took the Philadelphia Eagles' head-coaching position after he swore he was staying at Oregon, perhaps the most compelling rationale was the need to strike while the iron was hot. With the success of college transplants like Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, and as the schemes and tempo favored by Kelly start to find their way to the NFL, Kelly may be of the belief that there's no better time than now.
Whatever personnel holes he may have as he tries to being that fast-paced, wide-open offense to the NFL, Kelly knows from his dealings with current NFL coaches that his system is already nearly impossible to stop when it's working correctly. It certainly worked with the New England patriots, who peppered Kelly with questions about the many facets of an offense that plays at a ridiculous tempo and spreads its opponents more thinly -- both literally and figuratively -- than most in the game. The Pats modified this approach as the 2012 season progressed, but it was very clear early on that they were merging with Kelly's concepts by running a dizzying number of plays with receivers wide outside the numbers.
The misperception, however, is that Kelly is simply a spread-offense guru of gimmickry, unable to bend to specific NFL realities. According to his players at Oregon both past and present, Kelly understands the modifications he'll need to make at the next level. Seattle Seahawks center Max Unger, who played for Kelly when Kelly was Oregon's offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008, told me last November that the seeming inevitability of Kelly's NFL ride shouldn't worry those who believe he won't adapt.
"Chip's offense isn't necessarily set in stone," Unger said. "The reason he's so good is that he can adapt to the players he has, and create the offense around what they do well. If -- and I think when -- he eventually goes to the NFL, I think it's going to be a matter of finding the offense that works well with the personnel that he has. I don't necessarily see him doing a total ... the same exact offense he has now. It will be interesting. If he goes and when he goes, I'll be bummed [for Oregon]. But he's a very, very good coach."
Kenjon Barner, who ran for 1,767 yards in Kelly's 2012 offense, was just as sure that his former coach will be able to do what needs to be done. Though Oregon's set of schemes didn't have backs pass-blocking in traditional ways, Barner told me, it was always a focus at practice -- intimating that there are aspect to what Kelly does that you didn't always see on Saturdays.
"I've said it time and time again -- I've never been around a coach, or known of a coach, who has the type of mind that Coach Kelly has," Barner said during preparation for next week's Senior Bowl. "When it comes to football, especially offensive football, the man's a genius. You have different coaches who are already in the NFL pulling at him and trying to pick his brain on the read-option offense, there's no better time for him. In my mind, he's the originator of this, and him being with the Eagles, I feel that he already has prime pieces to the puzzle, and he can be very successful there.
"I don't see that transition being a problem -- I think he'll be great."
Some would say that the read/speed/zone-option offense is a gimmick that the NFL will figure out as it did the Wildcat. Those who have run Kelly's combination of spread concepts and furious tempo respond simply: Good luck.
"To everyone looking from the outside, it seems so simple," Barner said. "They don't see the intricate details of what really goes on with one particular play. So, anyone looking at it like it's a gimmick and it won't work, you're completely wrong. There's no situation [Kelly] comes across that he can't adapt to -- he's mastered the ability to adapt, and to change his ways to fit a situation. It won't be a problem for him."
One thing that Unger and Barner thought might give Kelly's players in the NFL pause is the tempo with which he runs practices and games. NFL players -- even those in traditional no-huddle offenses -- will understand that it's quite a bit different when you're going full-blast like that in the pros.
"It's not something that you can do all of a sudden, and just pick up and do it," Barner said. "It wasn't something that we just picked up and did. You've got to work at it. Initially, it will take guys getting into the right shape for that, because you have to be in great shape to run that up-tempo offense. It's not your typical no-huddle. We're running a play every 13 seconds, and you have to be in great shape to do it. It may not hit off with the players right away, but once you buy into it, and you really give yourself to it, the sky's the limit.
Unger agreed. "It's tough to run a lot of those plays in high numbers," he said, pointing out the need for more than just straight multiple option plays. "Carolina does quite a bit of it, and Washington does it, too. But the speed of the defenses -- it's just a lot higher and the reads are a lot different. That's just what makes it more difficult."
Those interested in seeing more of how Kelly's concepts will work at the NFL level can watch the Patriots give it a shot against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game this Sunday. When the two teams last met on Sept. 23, Baltimore pulled off a 31-30 win and beat the Pats to the punch with the no-huddle idea, keeping pace with 65 total plays and 28 first downs to New England's 77 and 33. Not all teams are equipped to match that pace, but the fact all four teams left in this year's championship chase can operate in that form and fashion further illustrates one simple point -- NFL offense are faster and more explosive than ever before, and the Eagles' new head coach is a prime influence.
"I think they've learned through the college games some of the best ways to implement it into the pro game," ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer recently said of New England's adaptations. "I think they've studied not just the mechanism of a line of scrimmage, but the communication – both signaling the play call‑in with single syllable words and the communication at the line of scrimmage. I don't know if I'd use the word “innovative.” I think they've just streamlined it. I think it's a better term and they've created a small enough volume to where they can execute at a very high level. So they get a lot of repetition at it.
"No-huddle is always the most difficult thing to rep, because the show team, the scout team on defense, has to be able to line up and not read defenses off cards. And that's basically what happens in the NFL. So the whole mechanism in practice and how they've been able to streamline into the NFL game and kind of perfect it to this point, you know, they're pioneering something in the NFL. And that's super-fast.
"They're showing the advantage you can have when you can play super-fast, because substitution issues for the defense, personnel matchups. You saw the touchdown run last week where literally nobody's on the offensive left side; the defensive line of scrimmage are running around in chaos."
Chaos works in the NFL, except when you're left trying to react to it.
For the record, Barner, who is currently NFL Draft Scout's sixth-rated running back of the 2013 draft class, says that he'd be perfectly happy to play under Kelly at the next level.
"He's great motivation," Barner said. "He'll get you going in a second."
In that offense, anything that takes a second might be the slow-motion version.
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