1) There’s a school of thought that the focus on DeSean Jackson was a big reason why Riley Cooper had a breakout season. When I went to Washington’s training camp last week, Redskins coach Jay Gruden discussed how defenses must focus so much on Jackson going deep that it can open up the field for other players.
But to hear Chip Kelly explain it, defenses were not focused on Jackson last season as much as they were focused on the Eagles’ running game. And that’s what opened up the field for Jackson and the other receivers.
“I think most people played us in single-high coverage and they played man across the board on anybody and no one was getting any help,” Kelly said. “Riley was getting man on his side. DeSean was getting man on his side. Jason Avant was getting man in the slot. Zach Ertz, whoever our tight end, was getting manned. Running back was getting manned.
“No one is going to play us in two‑deep because if you play us in two‑deep, we can run the heck out of the ball. We had everybody as close to the line of scrimmage as possible and nobody was helping anybody. They were trying to stop the run game.”
2) When the Eagles signed James Casey in March 2013, they were excited about his versatility in Kelly’s offense. But in the NFL, free agency comes before the draft. And the Eagles never expected Zach Ertz to be available in the second round.
Ertz became the Eagles’ second tight end behind Brent Celek, relegating Casey to the third tight end and special teams. He played only 14 percent of the offensive snaps. Casey has talent and was coming into his own in Houston when the Eagles signed him. But it’s hard to see how he can increase his playing time in 2014 with the same tight ends back, plus Darren Sproles, Jordan Matthews, and Josh Huff all pushing for playing time in packages beyond the Eagles’ “base” offense.
“I think a lot of it depends on who we're playing and how do they defend certain sets, and sometimes the personnel groups that we selected to go with have really nothing to do with our personnel,” Kelly said. “Just depends, what do we want their defense in. If we can present them with 11 personnel and they are giving us this; if we present them with 12, they give us this. You know, what's a better matchup for us?”
The Eagles are paying Casey $3.985 million this season, which is a hefty salary for a third tight end. His talent might merit that compensation – Casey is well regarded around the NFL – although his role does not require such a big salary. I’d be curious if the Eagles find a way to use Casey more in 2014, or dangle him to a team that needs a tight end.
“We have great confidence in James,” Kelly said. “I think as the season went along, he really contributed and he can play multiple positions for us. I'm excited about where James is headed.”
3) Speaking of tight ends, Ertz's potential has been a popular topic all offseason. Ertz did not have a full offseason in Philadelphia last year, and most of his production came in the back half of the schedule. He had 22 of his 36 catches, 268 of his 469 yards, and all four of his touchdowns in the final eight games of the season.
Ertz has picked up where he left off. It’s clear that missing last spring hurt him – safety Ed Reynolds could be in a similar situation this year – and his comfort level within the system is clear.
“I just think he was behind a little bit, but not by any fault of his own,” Kelly said. “Real smart kid. Understands exactly what we are trying to do but then you have to go out and do it and it's just he missed reps, which was the most important thing and now I think he's just a lot more comfortable in terms of what we're doing there.”
IN THE INQUIRER…
- Cary Williams developed into a regular starter, won a Super Bowl, and earned a nice contract. What's next? He hopes a Pro Bowl.
- Slow down the Jordan Matthews hype because history suggests rookie wide receivers require a transition, writes Jeff McLane.
- Allen Barbre finally gets an opportunity. Bob Ford with some good insight on who Barbre is.
- Chip Kelly discusses draft hype, whether open practices are effecient, and an update on injurues, in this notebook.