There's a new sheriff in Philadelphia, and you better watch closely or you'll miss the action.
Chip Kelly is bringing his uptempo style from Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles, and fans all across the country are excited to see what he will bring to the table. So what exactly can we expect from the 2013 Eagles in their first season under a coach not named Reid since 1998?
The Eagles are coming off a 4-12 season in 2012, their worst record of the Andy Reid era, which led to the firing of Reid (and Reid landing right back on his feet in Kansas City). Enter Chip Kelly, a man who won 46 games in four seasons as head coach of the University of Oregon, including three Pac-10/12 conference championships and two BCS bowl games.
Kelly is expected to bring an uptempo style to the Eagles, as well as a much stronger running game, something Eagles fans still wish Reid had emphasized more. Kelly may not be able to run his entire arsenal he had at Oregon, but he knows this. He has the football mind to craft his own game plan based on what he has to work with.
But what does he have to work with?
For starters, he has a three-way quarterback battle to sift through at camp between Reid rollovers Michael Vick and Nick Foles, as well a quarterback Kelly personally traded up to draft in Matt Barkley.
This is easily one of the biggest storylines throughout the NFL. Vick was given a restructured deal in February and knows he will not be handed to starting job. And he seems to accept it. He's ready to go out and show he is the best man for the job.
He is coming off a rough season in which he missed six games and completed less than 60 percent of his passes, though not all of the blame is on him. The offensive line didn't do him any favors, either. Now he gets a fresh start with Kelly, though this may be his final season in Philadelphia. Will Kelly lean towards the most mobile quarterback among the three?
As far as Foles goes, he held his own pretty well in the six games Vick missed, including leading a game-winning drive against Tampa Bay, which still had some playoff hopes at the time. As with Vick, the offensive line led to some of Foles' struggles, as it wasn't the best situation to be thrown into. Plus, in five of those six games, Foles was without DeSean Jackson.
Mechanically, Foles has a pretty strong arm, and while not as mobile as Vick, he can get rid of the ball quickly—key to what Kelly wants to do.
Barkley is likely the third-string quarterback this year, but he is now Kelly's guy and could wind up as the starter in the future. Kelly obviously knows a lot about Barkley, having faced him four times in his career. He is another guy who knows how to get rid of the ball and make quick decisions. It will be interesting to watch how he develops, especially after the fall he took in the draft, going from a sure-fire first-rounder in 2012 to being a fourth-rounder in 2013.
Fans who screamed for more running should be excited. Expect a heavy dose of LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, as it's conceivable the Eagles could run the ball 55-60 percent of the time. Kelly won't likely scrap the run game so quickly, even if he starts to fall behind. And with a much-improved offensive line (with Jason Peters returning, Lane Johnson being drafted and Todd Herremans moving back to guard), McCoy and Brown may have plenty of room on the field to work with.
Wide receiver will be one of the toughest positions to figure out throughout camp. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are the only locks. After that, it's a roll of the dice. Jason Avant? Great hands, but will he be athletic enough to keep up? Is Riley Cooper expendable after the acquiring of Arrelious Benn? Damaris Johnson may be small, but he looks to be the punt returner for now.
And what about Ifeanyi Momah and Russell Shepard? They could be wild cards in this equation, particularly Momah. He is 6'7", but didn't overly impress in the spring. He's another name to watch in the preseason.
Tight end may be the favorite position for Chip Kelly after he signed James Casey from the Texans in free agency and drafted Stanford TE Zach Ertz (another Pac-12 player). Expect the Eagles to run plenty of two-tight end sets to go with their run game. Also look for Casey and Ertz, and perhaps Brent Celek to some extent, to move around the field. Kelly will look to maximize the strengths of his big guys and use them as movable chess pieces. One question is whether Clay Harbor sticks around. He could be the odd man out here.
Along with Peters, Johnson and Herremans, the Eagles' offensive line should also include Evan Mathis, who has been one of the best guards of late, as well as the returning Jason Kelce, who looks to be recovered from his ACL tear suffered in Week 2 of last season.
The key is whether these guys can keep pace with Kelly's uptempo style, one reason Kelly selected Johnson with the fourth pick. If healthy, Peters is one of the game's best left tackles, and we all remember last season's disaster at left tackle, including free-agent flop Demetress Bell.
One player to watch in the preseason is former Stony Brook OT Michael Bamiro. A big man at 6'8", 335 pounds, Bamiro should, at the very least, make the practice squad. But don't count him out of making the final roster as a fourth tackle.
A new-look defense, including a new 3-4 look, is another key factor in telling how this season will go. Guys like Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Bennie Logan and Clifton Geathers could man the front three.
The positions to watch are the linebackers. Trent Cole has been a top 4-3 defensive end in his career. Now he enters unfamiliar territory: 3-4 outside linebacker. Can he fully grasp the position? He may have to drop into coverage more, as Connor Barwin likely will be the main pass-rusher.
How does Brandon Graham factor into all this? Does he rotate with Cole? He played some 3-4 OLB at Michigan.
And what about the inside linebackers? Mychal Kendricks can play just about any linebacker position, and playing inside may be even better for him, allowing him to move around some more. As for DeMeco Ryans, it's time to prove wrong those who claim he is strictly a 4-3 middle linebacker and that he can't play 3-4 inside linebacker.
Other guys to watch in the front seven are Joe Kruger, a seventh-round pick from Utah, and Jake Knott, an undrafted inside linebacker from Iowa State.
Secondary was a big problem for the Eagles in 2012, as Nnamdi Asomugha ended up losing a lot and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wasn't much better. Kurt Coleman was also getting burned a lot, as teams were picking the back four apart. Now Asomugha and DRC are gone, and in step free-agent signings Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher.
Fletcher has had injury problems before, but when healthy, he can be a solid No. 2 cornerback. Though he was burned at times, Brandon Boykin can hang in at nickelback and Curtis Marsh can take the outside.
At safety, the Eagles brought in Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung to compete with Coleman and Nate Allen. Chung played at Oregon when Kelly was the offensive coordinator there. Earl Wolff is also someone who can step in and earn a starting role. Wolff was a solid player at NC State who fell to the Eagles in Round 5. And one guy I am eager to watch in camp is Jordan Poyer, a guy many draft pundits felt was a steal in the seventh round, and another Pac-12 player selected by Chip Kelly (Oregon State).
And we have another battle to watch at punter between former Texan Donnie Jones and undrafted free agent Brad Wing of LSU. Alex Henery and Jon Dorenbos will kick and long snap, respectively. Also look for DeSean Jackson to field some punts as well, with Boykin returning kickoffs.
It's a new era in the City of Brotherly Love. While a full return to prominence may not happen immediately, the Eagles are trending up and may very well compete in an NFC East that has crowned champions at 9-7 (2011) and 10-6 (2012) in the past two seasons.
However, the schedule is not kind to the team. After a Monday night opener in Washington, the Eagles will host San Diego and Kansas City (Andy Reid's homecoming on a Thursday night) before heading off for three straight road games (Denver, New York Giants, Tampa Bay). Their bye isn't until Week 12, coming after they travel to Oakland and Green Bay in Weeks 9 and 10.
Three straight home games in the back half of the schedule should provide a bit of a break (Washington Week 11, bye Week 12, Arizona Week 13, Detroit Week 14) before a Week 15 visit to Minnesota and their home finale against Chicago. The Eagles close at Dallas. It's a gauntlet of a schedule.
In all likelihood, the Eagles will experience bumps and growing pains under a new coaching staff. But the future certainly looks bright. It will be a bumpy ride, so buckle up and let Chip Kelly lead the way.