Atlantic City, NJ - Chip Kelly was in Atlantic City at Revel Casino Friday night to collect the Maxwell Football Club's Earle "Greasy" Neale Award, given to the professional coach of the year. Before the award ceremony, Kelly spoke with the media on several topics, which we'll paraphrase here:
• The coaching staff has not yet sat down and discussed how they are going to deploy Darren Sproles. Kelly described Sproles as a complementary player to what the Eagles already have in place, and a player who can take some of the load off of LeSean McCoy. Chip also noted Sproles' added value as a returner, and the fact that he had over 70 catches in each of the last 3 years.
• Kelly seemed unconcerned with Sproles' age. He said that before the Eagles-Saints playoff game, defensive staff had concerns about how to defend him. Kelly simply said, "He's a really good football player."
• Kelly didn't think the "price tag" was a factor in the Eagles' decision not to heavily pursue big-name players like Jairus Byrd, Darrelle Revis, and DeMarcus Ware. He said it was about who fits what the Eagles do on either side of the ball, and on special teams.
• Kelly liked that Malcolm Jenkins was drafted as a corner, and has corner skills. He said that some players are just free safeties, and some guys are just strong safeties. Kelly prefers players with versatility, so that "when you play a guy like Peyton Manning, you better not have a guy always doing the same thing." Kelly said that Jenkins can play man, because he has cover skills, he can play free safety because he has range, and he can play in the box. Kelly added that there were a lot of other really talented players available at safety, but Jenkins fit best with what the Eagles want to do defensively.
• It appears Kelly views Jenkins as the "quarterback of the back end," and he'll be responsible for making checks pre-play.
• Free agency is "just additions to your team," according to Kelly. He felt that the best thing the Eagles did was look up Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin, and Donnie Jones before they got an opportunity to go to free agency.
• Special teams is always an emphasis. When you have a roster of 46 guys, a lot of them have to play special teams. If you take away your starting 11 on offense and defense, now you're down to 24 guys, and 3 of them are your kicker, punter, and long snapper. Kelly felt that the Eagles needed to upgrade from a coverage standpoint, and in the return game. He also felt that they left yards of the field in the return game. If players can't contribute on special teams, they're "not in the conversation" as far as adding them to the roster.
• Kelly is "not an award guy."
• Kelly said the Eagles aren't building their roster to beat any specific teams. They build "for the long haul," and "you better have a lot of tools in your toolbox, because you're going to see a lot of different looks." Kelly cited the NFC East as an example. With a new head coach in Washington, a new offensive coordinator with the Giants, and a new playcaller in Dallas, you don't know what you're going to get.
• Kelly thinks that what the Eagles did last year was meaningless. "It's a year to year league." He then cited the Atlanta Falcons as a team that was on top one year, and fell drastically the next year.
• And finally, Kelly was asked about the rumors surrounding DeSean Jackson, and his importance to the team. Kelly replied, "He's a priority at receiver, before Maclin, behind Cooper, or is it Cooper before Maclin, or Maclin before Cooper? So I'll check what you write, and I'll tell you how we feel about it."
I'll just add in a bit of my own commentary here. The reporter who asked the DeSean Jackson question was the Inquirer's Jeff McLane, who had previously reported that Jeremy Maclin was a priority over Riley Cooper when the two players were still unsigned by the team. The Eagles ended up signing Cooper first, but that doesn't mean that McLane was wrong. The Eagles could have certainly valued Maclin more, but were just able to get a deal done more quickly with Cooper. Kelly took the opportunity to needle Jeff a little, and in the process, say absolutely nothing about Jackson. It was really a brilliant answer.
The Eagles have had plenty of opportunities to simply say, "DeSean Jackson is an Eagle and will remain an Eagle, end of story."
But they haven't.
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