Even when the first-team defense was on the field in the Eagles' 14-9 win over the Carolina Panthers on Thursday, the defensive line rotated. The starting unit of Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, and Cedric Thornton came out. Clifton Geathers, Bennie Logan, and Damion Square entered the game. And they switched again.
This was a hockey-style substitution, and it was by design. It sounds like the Eagles will be utilizing this strategy this season.
"It depends on the situation," Kelly said. "I think sometimes when the drives get a little bit longer because of the talent level of some of those other guys, there's not a big drop off. Is it a tired [Sopoaga] and [Thornton] and Fletcher or a full-of-energy Square and Bennie Logan and what not? I think the ability to have six guys and seven guys that's can rotate through there I think makes you better."
Although it's not relevant in the preseason game, Kelly will be thinking about the fourth quarter during the season. It's actually the opposite of the offense's philosophy, which wants to keep the up-tempo pace and wear down the defense. Kelly doesn't want his defense to get worn down, which is why he wants depth on the defensive line to substitute in mass.
"Because they're not rotating offensive linemen, so if you can keep bringing some waves at them, I think in the long haul it's going to pay off," Kelly said. " Because it also makes [Cox] and [Thronton] and [Sopoaga] and those guys fresher in the fourth quarter because we've given them some blows early in the game. Instead of saying when the fourth quarter comes around, boy, they're really tired, we need to get the other guys in the game. So it kind of gets them into rhythm."
One part of it that should be noted is that it happened last night also to get a better look at some of the young players. As much as Thornton or Square have impressed the coaches, it's important to see them against a starting offensive line. So even though the Eagles will be playing this way this season, the specific decision to do it last night was because the Eagles want a better evaluation in the preseason.
"You don't know when the guys are playing in the first and second quarter how many snaps they're going to get," Kelly said. "We want to make sure we can get them on tape. But in the long run, it's going to pay off. When you have that type of depth, you use it. If you don't have a quality guy at the two‑spot, so to speak, it's tough to have that kind of mindset in terms of let's rotate these guys. But I think we do have some guys, and those young guys are really pushing for playing time. So I think that's going to make us better in the long haul."
It might not have been a surprise that Cary Williams got into a scuffle in his first preseason game. It seemed he was brought to the ground by Steve Smith, but it befits Williams' personality to be the one involved.
“It’s football, that's all it was," Williams said. "Two football players, competitors, that's just all it was.”
No penalty flags were thrown, and both players are veteran players. Kelly did not take any public issue with what happened.
"I've always liked Cary's attitude, but the game's got to be played within the whistle," Kelly said. "He didn't get flagged or anything. But I've never had any problem with Cary's attitude."
If special teams are looking better overall this preseason, it just means they're taking advantage of the all the practice time spent with the unit. Although Alex Henery missed his field goal attempt, the return and coverage units are noticeably better in the first two preseason games.
"I think we're pleased but we're never satisfied," Kelly said. "But I think our players have really adapted to Fipper's [Dave Fipp’s] system, and they have a really good understanding of what we do.
"Russell Shepard made a great play on kick cover. Damaris had a good punt return, Brandon Boykin had a good kickoff return. So we work at it a lot, and you guys that have been to practice, will tell you that. But it's paying dividends in the first two games."
Contact Zach Berman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.