Chip Kelly has worked fast in Philadelphia, making sure that his coaching staff would be formed prior to free agency and the draft. His moves, while they may pan out, are starting to become quite a few head scratchers. Within the last few weeks, Kelly either approved the hiring of or directly chose to bring in assistants Pat Shurmur (offensive coordinator) and Billy Davis (defensive coordinator). And now, comes the potential media bomb shell, the signing of former Oregon Duck Dennis Dixon.
The most puzzling of the three decisions may be Dixon, but let’s not start there.
Davis may have to be chalked up to an impulse buy. Sure, you simply must have a defensive coordinator and Davis has a considerably long NFL career, but that career is not full of greatness, as Davis has spent the last several years on let’s say “questionable” coaching staffs. This will be Davis’ eighth stop since the year 2000, and his third attempt leading the defensive staff, since calling the plays on defense with the 49ers (2006) and Cardinals (2010). The Eagles had a former offensive assistant calling the defensive plays to begin the 2012 season, so this really can’t end any worse, but the need to get better and the doubts about Davis’ ability to steer the defense in the right direction cannot be over-emphasized. The assumption is that Davis will look to install a 3-4 defense or at least bits of it, and try to create the pass rush and outside coverage this team never seemed to get going last year. The Eagles as a team massively underperformed in their final two seasons under Andy Reid, and the defense was as big of a liability as the offense, if not more so. Davis will have his work cut out for him, and time will tell if he is capable or if his onslaught of job changes will continue.
Shurmur, by comparison, may be an acceptable hire, but time will tell. Recently discarded as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Shurmur has been generously credited with the development of former Eagles quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and AJ Feeley, and may owe all or part of that credit to Andy Reid, Marty Mornhinweg, and Brad Childress. His progress in developing Sam Bradford (2010), Colt McCoy (2011) and Brandon Weeden (2012) left much to be desired, as did his offensive scheme and play calling that routinely left young and stressed signal-callers hung out to dry as they tried to develop rhythm and timing on the fly with receivers who’s names they were still learning.
Shurmur will not be expected to install an offense or call plays, as those privileges should be retained and overseen by Kelly. He will likely be asked, however, to help Kelly in developing a quality NFL caliber quarterback from the four or more the Eagles will be expected to head to training camp carrying. Out of Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Trent Edwards, and aforementioned Dixon, Kelly and Shurmur will not need to develop a permanent starter, and in all likelihood, there isn’t one to be had.
Vick is 32, and his best years are behind him, although he still possesses great mobility and a howitzer for a left arm. He is injury and mistake prone, and trying to learn an entirely new offense under new leadership and try to un-learn all of his bad habits such as turning over the ball at an alarming rate, may simply not equate in to a long-term spot on the roster. Foles has a cannon for an arm and can make all of the throws, and even though he is just a second year player who no doubt has his best years ahead of him, will likely be buried on the depth chart or used as trade-bait if he is retained at all, as he is a bronze statue compared to Vick, a traditional pocket passer who may not have a real future in Kelly’s assumed read-option offense.
Trent Edwards has not succeeded long-term for any team he has played for. He is a less talented Chad Pennington, accurate to be sure but lacking the arm strength to really play and consistently beat the elite defenses.
And then there is Dennis Dixon. Alright, stop right there. I know what you Duck and perhaps bandwagon Eagle fans are thinking. If three of the four QB’s on the current roster will not be starting or playing for the Eagles long term, that must mean that Dixon has the golden ticket, right? That DeSean Jackson will swap out his jersey number and that this will all work out? Dixon starting for Kelly, wearing number ten in green and white, and running the fastest offense in the country?
No. Just… no. Before you get ahead of yourselves and start buying number 10 jerseys and end up with jerseys that say Jackson on them because you were too busy going gaga picturing the first real Ducks starting quarterback in the NFL since Dan Fouts, just hold on.
Dixon won’t be wearing number 10. And he will not be starting. Well….maybe. After all, Dixon is a tremendous athlete, a mobile NFL QB who has played in Kelly’s scheme before. In fact, he’s the only one out there, so anything is possible.
But I just don’t see Dixon getting his professional career kick started by going back to what made him a big name as a collegiate player, it simply doesn’t work that way. Granted, few talented collegiate players get the chance to reunite with their college coaches in the NFL and run a similar scheme with virtually no competition in front of them. Even if Dixon could survive hits from the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Pierre-Paul (who he will play frequently), Dixon’s main or most valuable talent is not his athleticism, it’s his prior knowledge.
His best asset right now, and the key to what he will likely be doing, is his experience in Kelly’s system. Dixon is going to enter training camp running the scout team as the number two quarterback, and help the Eagles offensive players expedite their learning of and adapting to Kelly’s system.
Head coaches love to bring their players who really should be assistant coaches along for the ride, and if they end up becoming starters for them, fantastic, but if not, they have one less person they have to teach, and that player likely becomes a teacher’s aide whether they like the idea or not.
Dixon’s athleticism is not overrated, and his ability to run Kelly’s offense at the pro level may become the saving grace for both of them. However, Dixon has shown that he is injury prone, if not all-together inconsistent, and his value or luxury as a backup for Kelly may ultimately supersede his potential as a starter.
So can it work? Kelly working with two largely unproven assistants, a banged up (mentally and physically) potential starting QB, and a thus-far career back-up quarterback he may have to turn to if any or all of Vick/Foles/Edwards struggles?
Well, Jim Harbaugh, who should likely be spending the majority of his time with Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson in Anger Management, who never came close to accomplishing what Chip Kelly did at the collegiate level, took Alex Smith and the 49ers to within an overtime loss of the Super Bowl, then followed that up with a loss in the Super Bowl with Colin Kaepernick as his starter. Does any of that mean anything for what Kelly will or will not accomplish with the Eagles and Vick or Dixon?
No, it means absolutely nothing. Kelly and Harbaugh are on teams that are polar oppossites, yet both possess the tools they used to succeed at Stanford and Oregon. We are basically all back in the year 2009, when the Ducks promoted Kelly to head coach after just two years as offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti. The results were fairly spectacular, so one can hope for the same outcome, or at least decent results.
At the end of the day, Kelly could win ten titles or zero, he could lead the NFL toward a futuristic version of Sid Gillman’s old Chargers teams. Or he could fall flat on his face and be another Steve Spurrier.
If nothing else, Kelly will put some new spin on some old ideas, and he will make it fun to watch.
It’s a wait and see kind of thing, and I for one am looking forward to seeing what it becomes.
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