Football / Sports

Eagles settle into new comfort zone

The music now seems like ambient noise, the hurried pace is normal, and there is only one quarterback taking snaps with the first-team offense. It isn't even noteworthy anymore when an Philadelphia Eagles player gulps down a post-practice smoothie.

Chip Kelly said his second spring in Philadelphia already is "light-years" ahead of his first, and the structure of this week's practices during organized team activities was familiar to more than half of the roster.

At last spring's OTAs, each day included the insertion of something new to the offense or defense. With so many returning players -- 58 of the 90 players on the roster spent time with the Eagles last season -- there is more familiarity with what Kelly expects. That has allowed for smoother practices, and much to Kelly's delight, faster ones.

"We're getting ... more plays off because the guys have a better understanding of the mechanics of it," Kelly said. "Our guys are more comfortable with how we want to operate."

Kelly's practices last spring were a jolt to an organization that had spent 14 years under Andy Reid. The playlist has some new additions this spring, but the in-practice music that blares from speakers now blends into the two-hour sessions. Kelly sprints from drill to drill, with practice delineated by "teach" periods, seven-on-seven drills, and full-team work. Dozens of players switch fields like they're on a line change in hockey.

The Eagles have been training for more than a month, but this is the first week that the offense has been able to practice against the defense. Most of the roster is practicing. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that sidelined him in 2013, there are no controversial absences, and the quarterback situation is settled. (There is even an undrafted rookie wearing DeSean Jackson's No. 10. Life really does move quickly at the NovaCare Complex.)

One year ago, Nick Foles and Michael Vick split first-team snaps. Foles has since been anointed the team's starting quarterback, with a Pro Bowl campaign under Kelly boosting his profile in the organization and around the league. He now takes all the first-team snaps; Vick has since moved on to the New York Jets.

Foles did not know how he would fit in Kelly's system when he reported last spring. There is no more ambiguity. His understanding of the offense enhances the entire practice. He also speaks with more authority and confidence about his role on the team.

"Last year at this time, we were trying to learn the offense," Foles said. "It was very vanilla and every day was a learning curve. Right now, there's a lot more stuff in and guys are a lot more comfortable running what we have. We're adding more. It's just a comfort zone with everybody. And we can really go fast."

The depth chart is also easier to predict. Kelly joked last year that there was no depth chart, only a "seating chart," because the coaching staff needed to become familiar with its players. That is no longer an issue.

Jackson, Patrick Chung and Jason Avant were the only starters who departed. Vick is also gone. There is still competition for roster spots, but most of the depth chart can be written in pen.

"Obviously if we had to go play a game, we know who is going to play right now," Kelly said.

Foles conceded that it was not just the coaches trying to figure out the players last year, but also the players trying to understand the coaches. Kelly replaced almost the entire staff from Reid's reign.

There are no longer questions about Kelly's methods, either. After an NFC East crown, a record-breaking offense, and a regular season without placing a player on injured reserve, Kelly's up-tempo system and emphasis on sports science are accepted. This spring requires only refinement for the 58 players who are back in Philadelphia, and a rapid introduction for the rest.

"It's about acclimating the new guys that just got here in terms of learning the system," Kelly said. "For the guys that have been here for a year, been in the system for a year, it's how can we get better as an individual."

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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