Chip Kelly is using innovative technology – including radio-controlled cars on the practice field – to get the most out of pre-season workouts, despite strict rules limiting them. This has led to media speculation over whether his efforts violate the spirit or letter of regulations banning the involvement of most coaches in early (Phase 1) conditioning workouts.
According to a source, however, the radio controlled cars were only used in Phase 2 workouts, which began the Monday before the draft, and were not a clever attempt to skirt the NFL's strict offseason workout program.
Some of this is my fault.
I wrote a fairly silly column about this Monday for Bleeding Green Nation, and it got picked up by NFL.com, USA Today, Yahoo, and even the Dallas Cowboys website. All that is great, but now it’s threatening to start a ridiculous controversy.
Chris Wesseling’s headline at NFL.com is “Chip Kelly using remote control car to skirt offseason rules,” and Reddit is awash with talk of “Dronegate” and proposed penalties ranging from losing a first round pick to wiping out the Eagles’ hard-won salary cap room.
There are no violations and there will be no penalties. But it’s an interesting case study of how rumors and speculation can spin out of control.
This all started with Eagles rookie Beau Allen telling PhillyMag's Tim McManus how he met Kelly:
I was sitting and waiting to go in and meet with [Howie Roseman] and all the front office guys, and Coach Kelly was driving around a little remote control car –they use it out on the field because they can’t do motions — and he drove it right into me and was like, ‘Oh, hey Beau, how are you doing?’ And I was like, "Hey, Coach."
About the same time, sixth-round pick Ed Reynolds told a press conference full of reporters how the Eagles were going to use Skype and podcasts to keep him up to speed when he returns to Stanford to finish his classes (just like Zach Ertz had to do last year).
Starting with those two facts, and some clarification from McManus, I had some fun with this.
For the record: Men in black suits did not actually drag Ed Reynolds away from the podium, screaming, after he revealed the podcasts. I made that up, and thought it was obviously satire.
The Eagles don’t use drone aircraft to simulate long passes as I jokingly - at least I thought so - suggested, and Reynolds doesn’t watch team meetings in “full Google Glass or virtual reality helmets with micro-IMAX 4D projection and THX-Dolby-quadrophonic sound.”
The RC car on the field is not “a dune buggy the size of Beau Allen” or “ a humanoid C3PO-type robot.” The car does not have “a yellow sticky note attached” with the words “Do you like blitzing check yes or no.” And even though he’s a nose tackle and a seventh-round pick, nobody calls Beau Allen “a nose pick.”
All of that is made up.
Here’s the real part: In the article, I adopted my BGN colleague Brandon Lee Gowton’s theory that the RC car was a way to get around the limits on “Phase 1” workouts, which are meant to be for strength and conditioning only. Coaches are not allowed on the field, so we figured they used a Traxxas Stampede Monster Truck (or something like that) to simulate a receiver in motion, so the defense could shift in response. It was a reasonable theory, but just a theory.
However, that’s where the controversy started, because the Phase I rules state that, aside from strength and conditioning coaches, “no other coaches shall be allowed on the field or to otherwise participate in or observe activities.”
Operating an RC car sounds a lot like participating, so howls of outrage ensued. It’s amazing how confidently people argue about things they know nothing about. My favorite part was this exchange:
When Kelly hit Allen with the car, according to our source, it was in the office, and Kelly was only testing out (horsing around with) the team's new toy in order to get the hang of it before implementing it in practice. Apparently Kelly is so thorough that he even practices for his practices.
Furthermore, Allen wasn't even working out that day, he was just meeting with the front office as one of the team's many pre-draft visits.
That’s all. No harm, no foul. [Now watch – tomorrow we’ll see a breathless report out there with the headline, “Chip Kelly Hit Rookie Beau Allen With a Car!”]
It might not be as interesting as a big rules controversy, but those are the facts. Heck, we don't even know what brand of RC car it was. I like to think that it was probably the Strawberry Shortcake Sun Lovin’ Convertible, only $19.99 at Toys R Us.
But don’t quote me on that.
Mark Saltveit is the author of "The Tao of Chip Kelly" (Diversion Books: NY) 2013, and a professional standup comedian.