Friday, January 11, 2013
Take Two: Many happy returns
By Kevin Gemmell and Ted Miller
8833454: Will Chip Kelly regret his decision to pass on a job in the NFL to stay in Eugene?
Does one mean more than many? That's the Take Two debate on the table today for your Pac-12 bloggers. What has the greater impact, Chip Kelly staying at Oregon? Or the key players who have chosen to pass on the NFL for another year?
Kevin Gemmell: Chip Kelly is more than a coach. He's a symbol of all things Oregon. He symbolizes speed, ingenuity and innovation. Some might even say, logistics.
That's why his return to Oregon is more important than any player -- or group of players -- returning to their respective teams for one more year. Kelly's return, while technically not a return since he never left, is a symbol of stability for a program that is sure to once again be in the national championship conversation next year, the year after that and the year after that.
After the Rose Bowl, I was talking with a few other national writers and we were discussing our top five teams for 2013. Once again, I was the lone wack-job that had Oregon No. 1. Hey, I stand by my insanity.
At the time, the popular opinion was that Kelly would be in the NFL in a matter of days. The feedback I heard was that there's no way they would rank Oregon in the top three if Kelly were gone. This, in my opinion, didn't make sense. The players are in place and Mark Helfrich is more than capable of picking up the torch and running with it. Oregon wouldn't be so quick on the draw -- twice -- to name him head-coach-in-waiting if they didn't deem him worthy.
But with Kelly back, the Ducks will be a preseason No. 1 or No. 2 because his mere presence demands the respect of the national media and opinion makers who hold the key to the postseason chances of teams. That means a fast-pass to the front of the line for the national championship game. No relying on anyone else to win or lose. Of course, you still have to win the games. And as I'm sure Ted will argue below, Stanford's returning trio of defenders isn't going to make that easy.
I almost got the impression folks were looking for a reason not to have Oregon in the top two. And Kelly departing for the NFL would have given them an opening. But now there are no excuses. Like every team in America, coaches are scrambling to patch holes and rearrange depth charts. And just like everyone else -- Oregon has holes to fill. Linebacker, for example, jumps out.
But the stability and national perception of the program is intact. There is no scrambling to save recruits. Other coaches who were licking their chops at the prospect of snaking one or two of those would-be Ducks who might have gone on the fence in Kelly's departure can keep on licking.
And yes, there is something to be said for loyalty in college football. Oxymoronic, I know. Seems like a strange concept. Who knows the real reasons why he decided to stay. Maybe he didn't want to be perceived as jumping ship if/when sanctions come down. Maybe he feels like he can't leave until he wins a title. Or maybe he simply doesn't want to go to the NFL. Honestly, I could care less what the reason is. I like Chip Kelly. And I'm glad he's back.
The fact that he's staying is great for the Pac-12, great for college football and great for Oregon. Players will turnover every year. That's the nature of the sport. But no individual player coming back can sway the opinions of so many like Chip Kelly.
Ted Miller: Kevin is correct: The biggest story in the Pac-12 after the bowl games was the return of Kelly after he spurned the NFL. Again.
But this is a Take Two, and my counter is the guys who will try to make him wish he were in Cleveland, which we all know is quite a challenge.
There's a lot of defensive talent coming back in the Pac-12 in 2013, and a lot of it we didn't think would be back, most notably Arizona State DT Will Sutton, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Morris Trophy winner, and UCLA OLB Anthony Barr, who could have been a first-round NFL draft choice just based on physical talent alone.
Barr probably returned because he could play his way into the top-10 of the draft. But it's difficult to imagine Sutton, undersized by NFL standards, putting up better numbers than he had in 2012, when he tied with South Carolina's man-beast Jadeveon Clowney for third in the nation with 1.08 sacks per game. Sutton and Barr combined for 26.5 sacks.
Kelly probably is feeling pretty fortunate he won't have to play Arizona State during the regular season, but he might have to contend with the Sun Devils in the Pac-12 title game.
Or he might not even win the North Division because, after Sutton and Barr, you have the Stanford troika: linebacker Shayne Skov, defensive end Ben Gardner and outside linebacker Trent Murphy, who also opted to return for their senior seasons. While the Cardinal did lose cornerback Terrence Brown to the draft, it welcomes back eight starters from one of the nation's best defenses.
Things won't be easy for Kelly's ludicrous speed offense this fall, for sure.
In fact, six first-team All-Pac-12 defenders and six from the second-team are expected back in 2013, and several will be All-American candidates. Sutton, Barr and Skov are likely preseason first-team All-Americans.
So Kelly's return is a good thing for Oregon and a good thing for the Pac-12, but a strong crew of Pac-12 defensive players will back in 2013, and they have no plans to lead a parade celebrating Kelly being back in Eugene.