Kelly, Shurmur proving to be a good match
Josh Huff expected something different. The rookie receiver the Eagles selected in the third round of this year's draft figured he would arrive in Philadelphia and quickly assimilate Chip Kelly's offensive system.
He had good reason to believe it, too. Huff had played for Kelly at the University of Oregon. He was Kelly's leading receiver as a junior in 2012 and ran the same system in 2013 under coach Mark Helfrich when he was again the Ducks' top pass catcher.
All Huff had to do was show up at the NovaCare Complex and start running those plays that made him a star at Oregon.
One problem: The terminology was not the same and the offense was far more complex.
"It was definitely different," Huff said. "It kind of caught me by surprise. I would say it was culture shock. I just had to relearn the offense. It was starting over."
Eventually, as Huff learned the new wording, he discovered the similarities to what he had done at Oregon.
"It is really an advanced version of the Oregon offense," Huff said.
Kelly, of course, is considered an offensive guru, a man in perpetual motion who had the audacity to believe that you can still run the football as often as you pass it in the NFL.
Even with that belief, Kelly had to make some adjustments of his own when he entered the NFL. In his six seasons as the offensive coordinator and head coach at Oregon, the Ducks averaged 235 more rushes than pass attempts per season.
That kind of disparity was not going to fly in the NFL. Last season, the Eagles ran the ball 508 times and passed it 500 times, a welcome reprieve from the grossly unbalanced Andy Reid era, but also proof that there was an additional voice other than Kelly's involved in the Eagles' highly successful offense.
That voice belonged to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, a devout believer in the West Coast offense who worked for a decade under Reid and was given his first chance to become a head coach in Cleveland by Mike Holmgren, one of the NFL's most innovative West Coast minds.
Shurmur, fired by former Eagles president Joe Banner after two difficult seasons with the Browns, seemed like an odd fit with Kelly, but he learned immediately that his new boss was open to any and all ideas.
"I think when we first came in, we developed a system," Shurmur said. "The first thing was, how are we going to communicate, how do we want to meet and how are we going to go through our day? And then we decided what we were going to call the plays and we decided what schemes we were going to run."
There is a West Coast passing element mixed in with Kelly's fast-tempo spread offense and the hybrid produced single-season franchise records for points, total yards, touchdowns, passing yards, and fewest turnovers. It also helped LeSean McCoy become the franchise's first NFL rushing leader since Steve Van Buren in 1949 and allowed Nick Foles to have the third-highest passer rating in league history.
How much credit belonged to Kelly and how much belonged to Shurmur really does not matter. The two men are linked and love working together.
"We're constantly running the schemes we've already put in, but then we're looking to add, too," Shurmur said. "Certain things that aren't working as well with the personnel we have, we put them on the shelf and we bring up new things. There is an interaction of things, concepts and system-type things that we've done in our past that become part of the Eagles offense."
Shurmur said the Eagles offense had to be different from the high-powered scheme Kelly ran at Oregon, just as the 2014 offense will be slightly different from the one the Eagles ran in 2013.
"There are certainly differences [from Oregon]," Shurmur said. "There are differences because, number one, the personnel that we have and, number two, the types of defenses and schemes that we are facing. The big thing is the fundamental foundation we have to work together.
"We all want to do what's best for the players that we have and we want to do the things that take advantage of their strengths and try to minimize their weaknesses. So that's the beginning. There is no bad idea, so we're willing to listen to anything that anybody has done that might fit."
Shurmur, like most good coaches, prefers the word we to I, but he understands that his own future could benefit greatly from his being part of Kelly's coaching tree. Based on what we saw last season, it's a tree that produces apples and oranges.
It is also a system that is quite different from others in the NFL. Talk to the coaches who never encountered Kelly before last season and they rave about the sports science. Offensive assistant Tra Thomas, 39, wonders if he'd still be playing if he had trained with Kelly's tactics.
Shurmur said Kelly's training techniques have become part of his own ideology.
"I certainly learned a lot of things last year in terms of the mind-set and how we train the players," Shurmur said. "We took different days off and trained in different ways than I was accustomed to and I learned the reasons behind it. There are a lot of things we do that are outstanding and I like to think it has become part of me as well.
"I enjoyed it because I felt like I had a chance to contribute, but also because I was learning a lot of things that were very different. That was very stimulating."
In the process, Shurmur helped Kelly become a better coach, too, and it should benefit both men and the Eagles in the immediate future.