There are statistics to measure just about everything in pro football. Points and yards. Time of possession and penalties. Height and weight. Touches and snap counts. Age and number of seasons in the league. Forty times and vertical jumps. We measure any detail we think might help us gain a better understanding of the game.
We don’t keep many stats during OTAs and minicamps, but if we did, the Philadelphia Eagles would be leading the league in one of the most important categories: attendance. Head coach Chip Kelly boasted to reporters at his Tuesday press conference that he had 100 percent attendance for every portion of the offseason program.
"We got a bunch of guys that love playing football."
There’s another aspect we’re not necessarily keeping track of: love of the game. There aren’t many stats for the intangibles in general. Effort, cohesiveness and drive cannot be measured, yet it’s almost universally accepted that these are important traits of championship teams as much as athleticism and on-field production are.
We may not be able to measure the intangibles, but the Eagles aren’t ignoring them, either. Since his arrival in Philadelphia over a year ago, Kelly has been more than an offensive mastermind scheming to gain yards and light up the scoreboard, more than a purveyor of sports science with personalized diets, sleep schedules and training programs.
Kelly has always talked about trying to instill a culture within his program. And if this offseason is any indication, one year in, that part of the rebuilding process has been an overwhelming success, as all 90 players on the roster appear to be on the same page.
Last offseason, Cary Williams was one of a small handful of players who missed some of the voluntary practices on the offseason schedule. A free-agent cornerback who was signed from the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, Williams skipped for everything from a dental appointment to a meeting with the interior decorator of his new home.
I just think that everybody is hungry. I think we left a bad taste in our mouth losing at home -- we lost a lot of games at home. Those are the things we want to right this season. Being at practice is important, especially for establishing relationships with guys, establishing a camaraderie.
It starts here in OTAs. We just have to continue to work and doing what we’ve been doing, and hopefully everything will run right for us this season.
Williams isn’t the only one who’s come a long way in a short period of time. As the Andy Reid era was winding down, the locker room was falling apart. There was infighting among the coaching staff, which led to a couple of firings. Star players were quitting on the team, to the point where one Pro Bowler was released midseason.
Under Kelly, members of the Eagles aren’t going into business for themselves anymore. Center Jason Kelce, one of the holdovers from Reid’s tenure, shared his thoughts with Tim McManus for Philadelphia Magazine about what prompted the change:
I think this culture Chip is trying to build, he's trying to get a lot of guys who are hungry to learn, driven, passionate about the game, smart. I think he puts a lot of emphasis on guys being accountable and being good teammates because at the end of the day, accountability and consistency are usually what win football games.
Chalk Kelce up as just one more person who believes talent and production aren’t the only attributes that lead to victory. In fact, it sounds like he’s putting intangibles over measureable skills.
Even superstar running back LeSean McCoy is becoming a convert.
Let’s face it, when the Eagles released DeSean Jackson, that had a lot more to do with what was happening behind the scenes than what transpired on the field. Jackson, a 27-year-old three-time Pro Bowler, was coming off a career year, falling less than 100 yards short of the franchise’s single-season receiving record. Then one day in April, he was released.
That’s when McCoy realized there was more to the game than racking up numbers. The NFL’s reigning rushing champion described Jackson’s release as something of a wake-up call in a conversation with Albert Breer for NFL.com.
"The whole DeSean Jackson thing, that helped out, to be honest, in making all the other guys aware," star running back LeSean McCoy said last Monday in a private, post-practice moment. "It's all possible. They'll cut one of your best guys if (he's) not buying in. On any team -- any team -- you look at that, and as a player, you can look at it from so many different sides, but no matter how good you are, you gotta follow these guidelines. And if you don't, you could be gone. ... You gotta buy in."
The Eagles, to a man, all sound like they’re buying in, at least when they get in front of a microphone. Actions always speak louder than words, though, and perfect attendance says volumes.
Even as the squad was about to head into a five-week break until training camp opens for the Birds on July 25, Kelly didn’t believe the players or his staff were itching to get away from the NovaCare Complex. As Martin Frank for The Delaware News Journal reported from the final press conference before breaking minicamp, everybody was there to put in work.
"I think the important thing for them is it's not getaway day," Kelly said. "It's another day to improve and get out there and get better as a football team, and I think that's their approach right now … I think the real message is it isn't getaway day. It's finish up strong. It's our last opportunity to get some real good quality work in."
"This isn't like Fred Flintstone with the 'yabba-dabba-doo' and we're trying to get out of work," he said, referring to the cartoon show from the 1960s. "I think anybody who's in our situation that coaches isn't like, 'I can't wait to get out of here.' I think most of them can't wait to get back in there."
This may seem basic, but NFC East rivals in Washington and the New York Giants actually ended their minicamps early. And in San Francisco, where the 49ers have appeared in back-to-back conference title games, head coach Jim Harbaugh was actually boasting that 59 of the club’s 90 players had perfect attendance records this spring.
It goes back to everybody on the Eagles being on the same page. Left guard Evan Mathis could’ve held out over contract issues. Outside linebacker Brandon Graham could’ve held out and demanded a trade. Starting quarterback Nick Foles could’ve taken time off for his honeymoon.
Yet no matter what was going on off the field for the Eagles, everybody who was available to practice was on it when the time came. Kelly has his players motivated—one of the hallmarks of a good football team.