- Phil Sheridan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Chip Kelly isn’t merely about to make the most eagerly awaited NFL coaching debut of 2013. In a year when three of the top four draft picks were offensive tackles, Kelly is the most closely watched rookie of any kind.
On "Monday Night Football," there will finally be some answers to the big questions surrounding Kelly and the Eagles.
Will the inventive offensive approach that made him a rock star at Oregon carry over to the NFL?
Will all the other quirks -- the customized smoothies, the offbeat drills featuring orange footballs and giant “flyswatters,” the monitors attached to players’ shoulder pads, the confusing combo of posterboard signs and hand signals from the sideline -- translate into winning football?
Eagles tight end Brent Celek, who played for Andy Reid for six seasons, admitted even he is excited to see Kelly’s offense in a real game.
“Who isn’t?” Celek said.
“When you look at what Chip did over at Oregon, and you look at a lot of other phases of the department that have changed drastically, you can’t help but be interested if you’re on the outside,” center Jason Kelce said.
That said, this is football. It might be interesting and exciting and even exhilarating football, but it is football.
“It’s not like we’re going to come out and be some kind of magic show,” Celek said. “We’re going to play football. I think every offense is kind of the same. We have some plays that are different. I like it. I think it’s going to showcase a lot of people’s skill sets.”
Kelly has certainly encouraged the air of mystery. He is the first Eagles head coach in memory to decline any one-on-one interviews for those standard, getting-to-know-you profile stories. He refused to do a weekly radio show, forcing GM Howie Roseman to step in and fulfill the contractual obligation with the local rightsholder. Any request to interview Shaun Huls, the former trainer of Navy SEALs hired as sports-science coordinator, is met with a Bo Jackson-worthy stiff arm.
It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Kelly hired a couple of ninjas on his staff that we just haven’t seen yet.
There’s more to it than that, though.
When reporters asked about his offensive scheme early, Kelly made it clear that it wasn’t some kind of Air Coryell or run 'n' shoot show. Look at his Oregon teams, he’d say, and you’d see they ran the ball a high percentage of the time.
“I’m an equal-opportunity scorer,” Kelly said. “We’ll score any way we can.”
The other day, when asked about the lack of big stats for his Oregon wide receivers, Kelly reversed field. He ran the ball a lot because his teams were always winning so handily.
“We were up so much at halftime in 80 percent of our games,” Kelly said, “we didn't have to throw the ball, nor did we throw the ball. That was a coach's decision. When you're winning 50-3, we'll run the ball a little bit more.”
Kelly chafed at the notion that his offense required the mobile Michael Vick over the more, shall we say, anchored Nick Foles. But after a summer of carefully orchestrated competition, Kelly went with Vick. Clearly, there will be an element of read option, with the quarterback running a fair amount, in the NFL version of Kelly’s offense.
Other than that, it’s hard to say. Kelly showed a certain amount in the preseason – read-option package plays with three options for the quarterback based on his reads -- but there is a lingering suspicion that he has kept most of his playbook hidden in a vault.
That creates a definite challenge for Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who has prepared for an offense he has never seen. With a national TV audience for his one and only NFL debut, Kelly surely wants to make a statement.
Besides, you only get one chance to throw a sucker punch.
“I don't look at it that way,” Kelly said. “I know you're going against Mike Shanahan, who is one of the really, really good football coaches in the history of this league. So if we sit there thinking in our meeting rooms that, 'Hey, we're going to try to pull a fast one,' that's not -- we're just trying to go out there, put the best plan in place based upon the 46 players we have available, and that's how we look at it and think about it.”
Monday night, the speculation ends and the observation begins. After a spring and summer of mystery, Chip Kelly will finally have an NFL track record.