New itself is new in Philadelphia, where the Eagles have gathered this week for their first minicamp under coach Chip Kelly. After 14 years in the same Andy Reid program -- a staggering length of time without a significant coaching change in today's NFL -- the chatter, the stories and the focus around the NovaCare Complex are all about what's new.
You have heard this week about music at practice, about the speeding up of practice tempo. You've read about Vinny Curry's weight gain and Brandon Graham's weight loss as each prepares for a possible position change in the new defense. Michael Vick and Nick Foles split first-team practice reps at quarterback. Each player had an individually prepared, personalized smoothie waiting for him when practice ended. Vick practiced with a heart monitor. Players are being given sleep monitors. Tight end Brent Celek said the communication on offense has a chance to be revolutionary.
“From a communications standpoint, it’s going to change the league,” Celek said. “I’m not going to tell you guys how, but it will. Just the way that they can communicate plays in and get us the stuff, it’s pretty cool. It’s something that I never even thought was possible in the NFL. Seeing the stuff he’s doing, he has a reason why he does everything that he does, and a reason why each play is called what it is. And it all makes sense.
“I can’t say that we’re going to be super successful, but from a communications standpoint, it’s insane. I think it’s awesome.”
Yeah, new is fun, and it's been a long time since much was new around the Eagles. So there's no need to go old-school-NFL wet blanket on this situation and start grumbling about how some new young coach is going to fall flat on his face trying to reinvent the league. Kelly is forward-thinking, his methods are research-based, and there's nothing wrong with that.
But the good thing about a results-oriented business like sports is that time ultimately does determine the value and validity of any new coach's ideas. The proof is on the field and in the standings. Years from now, we'll either still be writing stories about Kelly's smoothies and sleep monitors or we'll have forgotten all about him. It all depends on whether his Eagles win.
It's up to the decision-makers to remain more level-headed than the fans or even the players. But Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman must at least occasionally let themselves dream about Celek's proclamation coming true. They targeted and hired Kelly to overhaul their franchise and lead it into the future. They're paying him a significant amount of money to do this. At the outer reaches of their imagination, they must sometimes think how great it would be if someday people were saying of Kelly, "He changed the league. What a great hire that was."
But there's work to be done in the meantime if that's to happen. The defense has to come together in whatever hybrid form Kelly and Billy Davis are imagining for it. Regardless of how they line up the front seven, they have to make sure they put the right pieces behind them in the secondary. Smoothies or no, that's a question-mark area right now. The offensive line needs to get and stay healthy, and the electric playmakers they have at wide receiver and running back have to make electric plays. Sleep monitors or no, all of that still lives in the realm of potential.
Above all else, Kelly and the Eagles must find their long-term answer at quarterback. If that answer is on the current roster, it's a long way from making itself apparent. Maybe they get something out of Vick or Foles that's more than the rest of us expect. Maybe they find someone in the draft next week. But unless they find their on-field leader at the most important position, their sideline leader can move training camp or change the defense or play music at practice as much as he wants and the Eagles aren't going to win enough games over the next couple of years to make any of that look smart.
Kelly doesn't have to make the 2013 playoffs to be a success. He's thinking long term, and that's what his bosses hired him to do. But "long term" isn't always as long as an NFL coach would like it to be. If the Eagles struggle this year, the April smoothies are going to start being a talk-radio punch line. And if they struggle again next year and the year after that, they're going to be a forgotten footnote while Kelly's replacement tries his own way of fixing things.
Everything about Kelly and the Eagles and what's going on in Philadelphia this week is fun and exciting, and it should be. Whether the excitement is ultimately justified, however, will depend on what happens on the real field in the big stadium in the games that count in the coming autumns and winters.