Aim to Imitate: Eagles Must Benefit from Practice with Patriots


Aug 6, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during a joint NFL training camp at the NovaCare complex. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Leading up to their preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field on Friday, the Eagles and Patriots are sharing the practice field as they continue their preseason regiments. Ironically enough, the two teams are also sharing the offseason headlines around the league. The Eagles, who until  the past week, were the talk of the NFL as experts and analysts tried to wrap their minds around what Chip Kelly’s first training camp as an NFL coach would consist of. On the other end of the field, while the watchful eye of Bill Belichick keeps things calm up in New England, the Patriots could not shed the questions on how their offense was going to make up for the losses of Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. While everyone was trying to predict how each offense was going to look, both teams had to deal with a personnel bombshell the likes of which very few teams have to deal with over the course of their franchise.

Patriots dynamic TE Aaron Hernandez, whose production would most certainly be depended on with the injury to Gronkowski, was arrested and charged in the relation of the murder of an acquaintance, and has been in prison, and essentially wiped from the face of the Patriots franchise. While Hernandez was widely regarded as one of the premier talents at the tight end position and a perfect fit for the New England offense, owner Robert Kraft and the rest of the Patriots brain trust wasted no time in cutting ties with the budding star and the team has distanced themselves with the situation adequately.

While the Patriots were dealing with their situation, the Eagles were reeling from the injury news for WR Jeremy Maclin when a video surfaced on the internet, putting one of their other skill players in a world of trouble.

Eagles WR Riley Cooper fined by team for racial slur. In statement, NFL calls comments “wrong, offensive, and unacceptable.”

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 31, 2013

Riley Cooper’s drunken rant and the league-wide reaction to it became the story of the NFL. Hordes of media swarmed to Philadelphia, not to see the new wrinkles to Chip Kelly’s offense, but to find out everything about the Eagles response to Cooper’s faux pas. While the Eagles talking heads, notably Chip Kelly and owner Jeffrey Lurie, were quick to verbally address the situation, the organization had been put in a bind at the worst possible time. As they try to usher in a new era of football in Philadelphia, the team would have to deal with the repercussions from whatever decision they were to make with Cooper moving forward. The Eagles decided to excuse Cooper from practice for counseling and a chance to reflect on his decision.

As the Patriots arrived in Philadelphia and the teams entered their inter-squad practice period, the Eagles decided to make a call on Cooper’s role on the roster.

Riley Cooper returns to camp five days after he went on a leave of absence. Here’s our early story, w. more to come:

— Reuben Frank (@RoobCSN) August 6, 2013

So while the football world tried to make sense of the Eagles approach to the situation surrounding their wide receiver, Chip Kelly’s squad would be sharing the field with perhaps, the perfect team for them to observe.

Aug 6, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick prior to NFL training camp at the NovaCare complex. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Since before there was any connection between Chip Kelly and the Eagles, the association between Kelly and Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick was well in the forefront. The then-coach of Oregon had reportedly schooled the legendary, hooded coach of the Patriots on how to maximize one’s offensive potential through uptempo, hurry-up schemes. When the Eagles hired Kelly, they saw their roster undergo drastic changes from the Andy Reid Eagles teams. Some were surprised at Kelly’s approach to putting his squad together, as he put a great focus on bringing in dynamic tight ends, versatile playmakers across the depth chart, and a defensive philosophy shift away from the 4-3. While no one came out and said it was his intention, Chip Kelly was putting together a loose model of the Patriots teams that have put up staggering numbers for the better part of the last decade.

While its great to sit and say that Kelly will be able to achieve the same success that Belichick has in New England, there’s a lot more to building a perennial contender than copying the best in the game. Although it is difficult to expect that Belichick will continue to impart wisdom to Kelly, as they are now both members of the same coaching fraternity, Chip has probably already benefited a great deal from his relationship with the future Hall-of-Famer. As Kelly embarks on his first season as an NFL coach, especially with the turmoil his team has dealt with to this point, he should make a point for his team, and himself to take everything they can from the exposure they gained from practicing with the Patriots.

Aug 6, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New England Patriots quarterbacks Tom Brady (12) and Tim Tebow (5) during NFL training camp at the NovaCare complex. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

There are obviously certain things that will be impossible for the Eagles to replicate as they try to gain a sense of identity with Chip Kelly. As much as we all think that Matt Barkley is the second coming of Tom Brady, a late-round quarterback drafted from a big school, let’s not get our hopes up. Tom Brady is the model quarterback and, with the stress placed on the quarterback position, I can’t imagine any player with the talent of Brady to slip that fall ever again. Brady, a sixth round pick no less, has completely defined the Patriots organization and, in his illustrious career, has taken pressure off the franchise for the next generation.

While Brady is impossible to replicate, there are other aspects of the Patriot approach to the NFL that the Eagles could benefit off of. As I mentioned earlier, the Patriots make a concerted effort to keep their players from dominating the headlines. Belichick is perfectly fine playing the bad guy with both his team and the media, and his minimalist approach to addressing the press allows for the lowest stress situation possible for his players. While the 24-hour news cycle has exposed a few breaches in the Patriots Fort Knox of information flow, every team in the league will be dealing with the same ‘around the clock’ scrutiny for the foreseeable future. Belichick and company control everything that they can and acknowledge that there are certain things that, in today’s media world, cannot be covered up.

While the Eagles, whether because of circumstance or principle, were decisive in bringing Riley Cooper back to training camp, their decision to do so has several detractors. No matter how little Chip Kelly and Jeffrey Lurie make of the Riley Cooper story, the fact of the matter is, that Cooper, a lifetime reserve receiver, was the focal point of the media coverage of the most powerful league in the world for the last week. If Cooper does remain on the team moving ahead, his presence in the locker room is a potential story for the entire season and beyond. The team had a chance to make a definitive statement with a player that would not have devastated the long term future of their team and decided to keep Cooper on board. The Eagles have allowed one player to become the story of a team that was primed to be one of the most interesting storylines in the league due to their exploits on the field. Instead, a player that has barely sniffed a starting lineup in his career with the Eagles, has become the first benchmark on the resume of Chip Kelly. For all we know, the organization has a plan on how to most effectively deal with Cooper’s presence within the franchise. With the media going back and forth on their decision at this point, all signs point to their decision being one they have to answer to countless times over the season.

Aug 6, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly during NFL training camp at the NovaCare complex. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

The area that the Eagles can still succeed in as far as mirroring the Patriots was an area that felt unaddressed by the Andy Reid regime. Especially towards the end of the Reid era, it always seemed as if the Eagles were trying to overcomplicate the game and cut corners by focusing more on top-end speed and quickness than physicality and size. While Chip Kelly’s initial comments discussing his preferred frame when it comes to his players made for a nice sound bite, it has become painfully evident that there is no place left in the NFL for a slight team trying to make every game a track meet. The Eagles do have a nice collection of behemoth players, but this approach is more about a mentality than a collection of measurements. Ironically enough, a tweet regarding one of the Eagles smallest players talking about practicing with the Patriots painted a powerful picture with where this Eagles team stands as far as competing with others.

Brandon Boykin says Eagles needed to respond today after Patriots “tried to bully us” Tuesday:

— Geoff Mosher (@GeoffMosherCSN) August 7, 2013

Much like the Yankees teams of the 1990s, the Patriots had a certain swagger about them that went beyond the record. Teams were afraid when they saw the jerseys, they were afraid when they went up to Foxborough, they were afraid when they saw Belichick, channeling the emperor from Star Wars, hiding in his hood as he peered into his script of plays. The Patriots were that team that fans of every other team rooted against after losing their cheering interest because one had to respect the year-in, year-out accomplishments. As the team stands, the Eagles have a lot of players who are self-confident, a lot of physically intimidating individuals, and maybe a coach with confidence, bordering on arrogance, to think he’s better than everyone else. What the Eagles must find a way to do, and it will take a universal effort throughout the roster, is instill that self-confidence to every player on the roster all the way to the last special teams player. At this point, save for small week-by-week adjustments, the Patriots rarely alter their game plan drastically enough to cave to their opponents whims. They are confident that what they do works, and has worked for the entire 21st century. The Eagles may have a coach with a vision that can put themselves in a similar position.

Jul 23, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly wipes his forehead during training camp at the Eagles NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Chip Kelly does not have an enviable task when it comes to his first NFL coaching gig. He has the hopes and dreams of a fanbase resting on his shoulders, he is injecting himself into an intense sports media market after holding court in Oregon for the last few years, and one of his players has invited a media hailstorm to his first training camp, presenting a major distraction. However, Kelly appears to be the type of figure who has devoted his entire life to improving himself as a football coach to the greatest extent. One instance of this dedication is associating himself with Bill Belichick. In a league where teams have been able to go from bottom of the division to Super Bowl Champions year after year, Belichick’s Patriots remain the gold standard for consistency in the NFL. Even with them not winning a title since they beat the Eagles in 2004, the Patriots have had to deal with wearing a bull’s eye on their chest during Belichick’s entire tenure. Rather than complain about the added pressure, they simply go about their business, systematically dispatching teams as they return to the playoffs every year. The Eagles do have work to do. Their talent level is clearly an issue, especially on defense, and the quarterback controversy that everyone hoped would be solved by the first preseason game is alive and well. However, the Eagles have a coach that is as much a sponge when it comes to football as anyone in the league. From what we know, he has used every resource to his disposal and became the preeminent young college football coach before forging his way to the pros. He has utilized a resource that very few others have had the luxury to: the aid and assistance of Bill Belichick. Hopefully, following a few days of practice with the Patriots, the Eagles decide to take advantage of the same resource.