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Questions Abound In Kelly's First Draft With Eagles

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Will Chip Kelly use his first draft to reshape the Eagles to suit his coaching style? Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Will Chip Kelly use his first draft to reshape the Eagles to suit his coaching style? Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

New head coach Chip Kelly has five quarterbacks on the Philadelphia Eagles roster, yet he’s looking for a quarterback. 

The Eagles have signed six defensive players in free agency so far, and any or all could start on opening day. Yet, offensive specialist Kelly sounds as if he’s barely going to watch his defense. 

As Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman prepare Philadelphia’s draft board, it is a mystery how the team might make its picks. Kelly and Roseman have lots to think about; so do football fans.

Despite having a quarterback bundle that includes Michael Vick, whose legs are 33 and not 23 years old; Nick Foles, a seeming misfit non-runner going into his second year; and Dennis Dixon, who once flourished at Oregon under one-time offensive coordinator Kelly, the Eagles could toss them all aside and tap West Virginia passer Geno Smith with the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.  Then again, Smith could be gone to Jacksonville or Oakland by then. That would open the second-round possibility of Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel, who once was coveted by Kelly when he coached Oregon.

After a bucket of ink was used signing defenders in free agency, it is difficult to see the Eagles spending many draft picks on defense. Then again, Oregon’s tall, swift end-linebacker Dion Jordan might still be available when the Eagles are on the clock with the No. 4 pick, and there is nothing to make the heart of a new NFL head coach flutter faster than talent he already knows. And Kelly knows all about Jordan’s pass rushing abilities.

A weak spot for the Eagles last year was offensive line. If one-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters remains hobbled after missing all of last season with a twice-blown Achilles tendon, then left tackle is a screaming need. Enter Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher, all 6-foot-7, 306 pounds of him, who is a favorite of offensive line scouts. He might be there for the taking at No. 4.

Should the Eagles choose to trade down from the fourth spot, they might look at Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson, another budding tackle gem, as a later first round snatch. And they still could nab Manuel in their early second round spot (35th overall).

In later rounds, Philadelphia has no sixth round pick but will put pen to file card five times in the seventh round. The temptation will be to tap Oregon Ducks players who know Kelly’s system. There are several former Ducks available who might become useful NFLers, including running back Kenjon Barner, offensive linemen Carson York, Ryan Clanton and Nick Cody, and safety John Boyett.

But Kelly seems too wise to fall into the trap of picking players solely because they know his philosophy. The poster boy for such misguided personnel moves was Steve Spurrier during his ill-fated 2003-'04 coaching experiment with the Washington Redskins. Spurrier brought in so many former Florida Gators—most notably quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who had knowledge and character but a woefully weak arm for the NFL—that one wondered how Spurrier missed John Reaves, Rick Casares, Richard Fain, Lindy Infante, Burton Lawless, Carlos Alvarez, Tony Lilly, Noah Brindise and even himself from a list of old-time Gators.

Truth is, Kelly might not even deploy his Oregon system, a fast-break, run-heavy hurricane of an offense.  He has been fairly quiet when it comes to specific plans, and unlike Spurrier, who mused confidently about “how my Fun ‘n Gun offense might work in the pros,” Kelly seems much more ready to modify his style to suit the talent on hand. He even admires such flexibility in a coach.

"Every coach's job is to put their players in position to make plays. You have to adjust and you have to adapt,” Kelly said recently. “If you've got a good coaching staff, that's what you do."

In recent stories, Philadelphia media have suggested that Kelly has “turned the keys of the defense over to” new coordinator Billy Davis. That succession and the number of new defensive free agents—that include cornerback Cary Williams from Baltimore, pass rushing linebacker Connor Barwin from Houston, and safety Patrick Chung, a former Oregon Duck, from New England—would indicate the Eagles draft board will focus on offense.

Kelly, who was a successful offensive mastermind before becoming head coach at Oregon, said of his trust in Davis’ capabilities: “I never wanted to be micromanaged when I was a coordinator.”

One of former coach Andy Reid’s lingering profiles of the Eagles is a bevy of smallish skill players on offense.  When Vick wasn’t injured he was a three-year starter at quarterback.  Vick’s once-dynamic speed used to be an asset, but he is quite short for the position at 6-foot and just about the skinniest guy ever listed at a weight of 200 pounds. Top runner LeSean McCoy tips the scales at 208. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is downright little (5-10, 175), and Jeremy Maclin, the other leading receiver, barely grazes the 6-foot bar.

That profile ought to change under Kelly. He recently said emphatically: “We want taller, longer people because bigger people beat up little people.”  Whoa, there surely is a new approach in Philadelphia, and how it plays out in the upcoming NFL Draft ought to be fascinating to watch.