We’ve heard much about Chip Kelly’s energetic and efficient style of running Philadelphia Eagles practice: the loud music, the nonstop pace. But Kelly has more tricks up his sleeve and is having his offensive players try their hand on defense in practice.
So far, TE Clay Harbor has taken turns at linebacker, “to be more versatile.” Harbor says that practice at the position is only for “emergency situations,” but could Kelly be trying to find other possibilities for Harbor to remain on the roster with three other tight ends on the Eagles’ roster, including Brent Celek and 2nd-round draft pick and Stanford standout Zach Ertz?
If we know anything about Kelly at this stage, it’s that he continues to keep us guessing.
WR Jason Avant took turns in the defensive backfield last week and is pleased to be considered in other aspects of the game. Avant has already demonstrated his versatility with his contributions to special teams and serving as an emergency quarterback for the Eagles.
“It’s one of those things that I work hard, and whatever that may be, and whatever the team wants me to do, I’ll do it. Whatever that is – special teams, offense – whatever it may bring. I’m going to do it the best I can. I don’t necessarily think it’s a clouded future. I think it’s an honor, in any way, for any coach to think you can do other things.”
If these practice moves are keeping us guessing, they will likely do so to the Birds’ opponents, should Kelly wish to roll them out during games. The Inquirer’s Zach Berman notes,
“New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a friend of Kelly’s, has done similar things in the past. Receivers Troy Brown and Julian Edelman have played defensive back in games. Linebacker Mike Vrabel caught 10 career passes as a red-zone tight end. The Eagles’ experimentation is not unprecedented, although it is uncommon at the NFL level.”
In a practice move not as dramatically different as his teammates’ turns on the opposite side of the ball, WR Jeremy Maclin has practiced punt returns. This change can be chalked up to Kelly wanting to fully evaluate the abilities he has on each player on Philadelphia’s roster. The 2012 season is the first that Maclin did not have punt return duties in his professional career, but it’s an option the new Eagles coach wants to keep open.
“Yeah, we’ll look at Mac back there. Again, it’s May, so we’re going to take a look at him and Damaris [Johnson] and DeSean and [receiver] Nick Miller. Russell Shepard is a guy that’s returned punts before, one of the rookies that’s out here. So we’ll get a bunch of those guys because you never know in a game; all of a sudden two guys are hurt.
When you’ve only got a 46-man [game] roster, someone has got to go back there, and hopefully it’s someone that’s fielded punts before. [Maclin] has got some experience at it, but we’ll take a look at him. But does that mean he’s going to be our starting punt returner? I have absolutely no idea right now.”
Kelly is testing the mental and physical prowess to their fullest as his players begin to settle in to his style of practice and leadership. At this early stage in Kelly’s tenure, nothing is routine.