There is always an abundance of news in the National Football League. From coaches with their rumps sat firmly on the hot-seat, to who’s ballin out at the moment, to who should be benched; there is never a shortage of information from one Sunday to the next. This season, a considerable amount of buzz over the first two weeks has been around Chip Kelly and the inclusion of his version of offense in Philadelphia. However, to create a stir in the NFL is really not all that difficult. Well unless of course you are a movement specialist trying to show people a different way of looking at things but I digress. Nonetheless, Kelly’s offense has excited fans in Philly and beyond…but will it actually be able to stand the true test of time? The NFL could easily be an acronym for ‘Not For Long’ because of it’s here today & gone tomorrow mentality.
If you have read other posts on this blog, you will probably be scratching your head as to why I would even touch on this subject here. This blog is not meant to be one for league news matters or issues which don’t center on football performance & mastery and I certainly don’t have either interest or expertise in some of the other matters that often come up in the league on Monday thru Saturday. However, this issue is a totally different one as I believe the success of the Chip Kelly-style of offense will be mostly determined by physical qualities and considerations of the players involved. Thus, my side of this will not be similar to others in that mine will be one to determine if this offensive scheme is a physically conducive entity rather than if it can work from a tactical strategy standpoint.
Of course, at this point, we aren’t in the Eagles meeting rooms to know their long-term plans of the offensive strategy employment. The only thing we can do is hypothesize based on things Kelly and others have said about its use as they head forward. On that note, one doesn’t have to look any further than Chip’s comments about the Eagles win on Week 1 but his apparent unhappiness with how slowly they operated for his liking and how few plays they ran (yet they ran over 50 in the first half which is common for some teams for an entire game). We can also speculate based on what has been witnessed in the demands of the plays called over the last two weeks as well as that which we may have seen during Kelly’s tenures in other places. On that note, most people will immediately say, “this is whole thing is a moot point because we have seen the extreme success and physical dominance portrayed over the last number of years of Oregon football.” Fair enough; but let’s wait just a bit before we start putting Chip Kelly up there with Bill Walsh before an NFL revolution as fully occurred. The following is a brief overview of why I feel like those willing to jump on that bandwagon may be missing the boat a bit and doing so without taking everything into consideration.
To start, it’s now fairly well-known that one of the first things that Chip did was hire a sports science director to oversee the physiological demands and loads of the body. I am in full support of this type of ground-breaking move. News spread of this department leading a more holistic approach to performance enhancement; making the players personalized smoothies and hooking athletes up to nearly continuous GPS-tracking (with the Catapult system). This is all being done in hopes that they will be able to grasp onto data which will give coaches the most accurate representation regarding the athlete’s physical state (I called it the athlete’s SMFS if you have seen that before) and his readiness to recover based on these demands he’s enduring.
Only time will tell just how much impact these types of things can impact the long-term performance of this system or any other across the league. Now, I am ALL for a more scientific approach. In fact, I have played around with the Catapult system on a number of occasions and I am truly intrigued by the informative data it can allow one to track and some of the movement qualities that could be taken into account from its use. This type of data could allow us to manipulate training and practice stressors accordingly to more closely optimize the demands based on the athlete’s current preparedness state. In many cases, the information it provides is imperative and that which I feel should be much more understood for the game of football than it currently is. BUT…there are still certain physical demands of the game (at this level of qualification; NFL) that will be inevitable and even player tracking through this type of scientific approach may come up short in the whole scheme of things. Let me attempt to enlighten you on my point.
Let’s say we take a personal example for me from this week. I want you to keep in mind that it is week 2 and I am starting this blog writing on Tuesday (though I am slow at typing so it likely will be out on Wed/Thur). Tuesdays are the days that I see my players from a local team (there is only one local team so you do the math) for any Special Physical Preparedness and Movement Efficiency work that they may need for that week based on what I saw on film from the previous Sunday. However, the 2 guys that I was supposed to have this morning both had to cancel because of how their bodies were feeling (which is what I want them to do as I don’t force guys to train unless their CNS is fully prepared on that day to handle further stress compensation). Now, one of these guys is 24 and the other is 28. BOTH of them strongly adhere to fully customized nutrition plans all year long (not just a post work-out shake but I am talking about 100% in on their diet plans). Both of them have high specific work capacity levels. In addition, both of them took limited snaps during Sunday’s game 48 hours ago; not because of the way that their bodies were feeling but because of coach’s decisions. Yet, here they both are (not old guys in the league or those lacking physical qualities specific to the game) not feeling ready to rock on the day that they most look forward to.
Let’s add some fuel to the fire when we think about some things with the Eagles offense plan of attack. The youngest player on the roster is 22 (there are 6 of these guys who fit this number with Bryce Brown being the only guy who plays an active role and still he is a back-up). The oldest player on the roster is 33 (3 of these; one of which is your starting QB that you are expecting to run all over the damn field taking hits). There are 5 WR on the team; ranged from 23-30; 2 of which really don’t play much (they’re 23 & 24). It’s intuitively obvious that even when we are comparing players at the highest levels of mastery or the level of physical preparedness, a younger player will almost always possess a greater ability to recover for strenuous activity. However, for the Eagles staff, there is a wide range of ages to account for when we are (Note: especially in comparison to the college game).
Simply put, the optimal Chip Kelly version of the Eagles will be the fastest-paced the NFL has ever seen; this equates to not only speed all over the field while in the midst of actual plays (lots of motion/movement at each position, quick-hitting plays, etc) but more importantly very high tempo and very little time in between plays. It also is designed to fully take advantage of the best athletes on each team and put them in positions in space on the field so they can make plays accordingly. This usually means that anytime the players are moving, they are doing so at a higher percentage of their maximum acceleration or deceleration capabilities. In addition, because of the pacing, we can speculate that there will be very little time for defensive players of not only the opponent’s team but also the Eagles themselves as obviously their players will be on the field much more frequently with quicker recovery demands as well.
What’s my point here? Well, in the NFL, there is a 53-man active roster. However, only 45 of those guys can suit up on any given Sunday. In the college game, you have 85 guys on scholarship and then additional players who play without any scholarship money. If the team is playing at home they can suit up an unlimited number of players for the game. If they’re away, they are limited to 70. Even that way, that is 25 more guys to use at your disposal in the college game. In the NFL; each one of those 45 players are the best of the best at what they do. In contrast, even though the Oregon Ducks play in the PAC-12 and it’s an exclusive brand of football, it is much easier to create distinct and significant match-ups across the field because of the large disparity of talent between athletes. That is a much more difficult task in the League.
Another key consideration is that if you watch Oregon football in the past number of years, we observe that rarity for the key contributing players to actually play well into the second half. The exceptions would come in the premier difficult match-ups usually deeper into the PAC-12 schedule but even so earlier on the guys get a chance to save their legs. No matter whom your opponent is in the NFL, this just doesn’t happen. Each and every week is an absolute battle and the athlete’s bodies take their toll very quickly. Most of us have been in a car accident of one magnitude or another? Shoot; most of us have been in several. Well, playing in the NFL is essentially the equivalent of being in a fairly intense accident on the weekly basis for at least 16 straight weeks.
The thing; it is already very common for the superstars of the league to practice very, very little as the season progresses. In fact, I had several guys who didn’t even step foot on the practice field for more than walk-through after weeks 8-10 and beyond last season but yet still played every Sunday. However, the athlete, their coaches, and the team training staff felt in these cases that the athlete simply wasn’t going to be able to endure further stress from practice…this is for half of the damn season! AND; this was in offensive or defensive schemes that were not even coming close to requiring what the Eagles offense does of its players.
Thus, some advocates of what Kelly and his staff are doing will say that, because of their advanced scientific and individualistic approach, when they start to see players who are going through more demanding workloads in a given week or are in need of a break, they will simply modify their practice or training workload in hopes of preventing possible injury or other negative consequences that can come from being in that type of physical state. However, I don’t know how that is truly possible unless ultimately their whole damn team won’t be doing anything but walk-through at practice because of the extensive amount of additional stress that the player’s bodies will be subjected to because of the system (because of the constant rapid acceleration/deceleration, high tempo, nature of being hit constantly in space, etc).
On a final point, sure, LeSean Shady McCoy claimed after the first game of the season that it was the first time in a whole long time that any Eagles players actually had fun playing football. However, anyone who watched the game could see that Mike Vick was absolutely exhausted down the stretch (beyond normal first-game conditioning concerns). This not only can greatly affect the tempo and pace that Kelly wants his team to operate at as well as set-up a greater opportunity for tactical mistakes (fatigue really does make cowards out of all of us). It also puts Vick behind the physical 8-ball making him more susceptible to performing at suboptimal levels as well as more likely to become injured because of inefficiencies in movement patterns. It should be worth noting that Vick has only once made it through to start each game of the season in his 9 seasons in the league (this was in 2006). So, it’s not like we are talking about the most durable guy in the league at his position and in this system the decision-making and athleticism is key to making the whole thing operate the way it is intended.
Taking this last point one step further; I talked to several of my players who are on different NFL teams last week with some of these points and not only did they give me confirmation as to these points but more interestingly, they were all very adamant that just hearing of and witnessing the pace that the Eagles ran they would never desire to play in a system which would place these types of demands on their body week-in and week-out.
Right now all of that which I stated is pure speculation. And Chip Kelly and staff may very well have already well-thought out solutions to the potential problems that I brought to light in this blog. They may very well prove me wrong on numerous fronts. I can’t be sure that this style is not going to become the new way of offensive football in the league…I just wouldn’t bet on it based on what I know about the demands that I see in the players of my past. All I do know for sure is no matter what happens; the league will never be the same.