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Kelly hire smacks of grand success or colossal failure

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Posted Jan. 16, 2013 @ 2:46 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

This is going to go one of two ways. You know that, right?

The hiring of Chip Kelly is exactly what Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie wanted when he set out to replace Andy Reid. And if you replace Reid — as bad as the Eagles have been the past two seasons and as divisive a figure as he was — you have to come big.

Kelly is big. He’s talented, controversial, unorthodox and innovative all rolled up in one. And hardly a guaranteed success.

What you’re hiring him for is offense, but not the Oregon offense. Note this: Kelly privately has told NFL people previously he would run more of a pro-style offense if he ever came to the league and that he would adapt many of his college concepts to fit the scheme he runs.

Break-neck-paced offense. Fake punts. Two-point conversions in the first quarter. Going for it on fourth. Favoring offensive plays over time of possession.

Don’t the Patriots, Falcons and 49ers think outside the increasingly small box like this? Aren’t they scheduled to play this coming weekend? In case you hadn’t realized, the Patriots have employed this approach, with some moderation, for the past two seasons. If Bill Belichick is borrowing concepts from Kelly to use for his team, the guy is doing something right.

Critics will point to failed college “innovators” in the NFL such as Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino, but what exactly did they innovate? Those coaches’ calling cards were recruiting. They collected talent well. Kelly didn’t always have the most talented teams at Oregon, despite what you think. Spurrier and Petrino were college gunslingers who loved to throw the ball against overmatched secondaries made up of redshirt freshmen. That’s not an edgy, fresh approach exactly.

People assume that Kelly takes the same approach: Whip the ball around the yard like it’s a game of keep-away. Not so: The hidden genius of Kelly’s offenses is the run game. When you quick-snap the ball and offenses are bearing down on you with run blocking, it’s tough to stop. Defenses are back on their heels. Pass blocking requires more of a defensive mentality, and the surprise factor doesn’t work as well when your pass rush is merely short-circuited for a half second.

Kelly has worked exceptionally with big backs (LaGarrette Blount) and small backs (LaMichael James), and there should be no reason why LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, assuming he kicks that fumbling habit, won’t be superb under Kelly’s watch. The Eagles could lead the league in rushing — imagine that — next season.

But running a pedal-to-the-metal style in the NFL won’t work all the time. The Eagles’ players most certainly will have to be better conditioned than they are, but you can’t do what Oregon did with a 53-man roster, and 45 on game days. Kelly must dial this back significantly, or know when to push the pause button, or he’s going to wipe his team out by Week 11.

Kelly’s Ducks used three speeds on offense — normal, fast and extremely fast — and it's going to be just as important to find great athletes who can run that system as it is to build defensive depth. Those players on the other side of the ball must be able to recover quickly after short breathers. Expect the team to add waves of defensive players, which might surprise people.

There are a million angles to break down this hire, and we'll have plenty of time to discuss who will be playing quarterback and the like. But ask anyone how the Kelly hire will turn out and it’s one of two polar responses — love or hate. We go to Twitter for a brief sampling:

"I am going on the record calling Chip Kelly one of the worst hires in pro football history," NFL Network analyst Heath Evans wrote.

Follow that up from one via CBS college football writer Bruce Feldman: “Text from a Pac-12 coach who I asked about Chip Kelly going to Eagles: "Great. Let the f@ckin NFL deal with him."

It’s meant as a compliment. I think.

Can this work? Yes, it can. In the short term. But what about once the NFL has adapted? That’s the key. Kelly must truly be that innovator, that one-step-ahead-of-you, around-the-bend type of coach. That’s what Lurie wants and what GM Howie Roseman has been thinking about for months.

Now we’ll find out what the Eagles got. It’s going to be fascinating.

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