Chip Kelly rebuilds a winning team, aims for greatness
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Winning 10 games two years in a row wasn't good enough for Chip Kelly, so he made bold changes.
He won't stop until the Philadelphia Eagles win a Super Bowl.
Kelly took control of personnel decisions after just his second season as head coach and rebuilt a winning team. He traded his starting quarterback and star running back, let his top receiver walk away in free agency, released his starting guards and a starting linebacker, and jettisoned three-fourths of his secondary.
"Finishing 10-6 and not going to the playoffs is just like going 4-12," Kelly said before training camp. "I didn't feel we were close at the end of the year. I knew we had to get better as a team."
Gone are quarterback Nick Foles, running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans, linebacker Trent Cole, cornerbacks Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin and safety Nate Allen.
Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso are the big names Kelly brought in to replace some of the departed starters. He even considered Tim Tebow for the No. 3 quarterback job before abruptly ending that experiment. Overall, the Eagles will have 10 new starters — five on offense and five on defense — when the season starts at Atlanta next Monday night.
The new guys played well together in limited preseason action. Bradford led the first-team offense to four touchdowns in his four drives. Maxwell and the revamped secondary shut down Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco in brief time.
"It was great coming together as a team in the preseason," Maxwell said. "The games don't count, but it's still nice to win and see everybody contribute. We believe in each other. We have each other's back and we have that trust in each other. That's important right there."
Kelly couldn't land Marcus Mariota in the draft, so Bradford is his man and the key to the plan. The 2010 No. 1 overall pick hasn't played in a regular-season game since October 2013 because he tore his left ACL twice in 10 months. But Bradford has fully grasped Kelly's up-tempo offense — similar to the one he ran at Oklahoma — and was outstanding in two games.
"I think this is the best we've looked since Chip got here, in the preseason," left tackle Jason Peters said. "The first year we were just getting adjusted. The second year we didn't look too good in the preseason, but we did OK during the season. I think this is the best we've looked. We've been together longer, got the system down. Everybody kind of knows what's expected, knows what to do, and is playing a little faster."
If Bradford gets hurt, Mark Sanchez provides insurance coming off his best statistical season in his first year in Kelly's system.
Here are some things to know about the Eagles entering the season:
SPECIAL TEAMS: After setting an NFL record with seven touchdowns on special teams last year — two punt returns, two kickoff returns, three blocked punts — the Eagles had two TDs in the preseason on punt returns by Kenjon Barner. They had the league's top-ranked unit overall last year and bolstered it in the offseason.
REVAMPED SECONDARY: The third-worst pass defense in the NFL got a major makeover. Maxwell heads a list of three new starters in the defensive backfield. Nolan Carroll gets a chance to start this season after backing up Williams and Fletcher in 2014. Walter Thurmond moves from cornerback to start opposite Malcolm Jenkins at safety.
THREE-HEADED MONSTER: Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles form arguably the best rushing trio in the NFL. Murray and Mathews could each have 1,000-yard seasons in Kelly's run-oriented, up-tempo offense. Sproles helps keep them fresh and can spring big plays as a runner or a receiver out of the backfield.
BREAKOUT STARS: Jordan Matthews seems poised to put up big numbers as the primary target after an impressive rookie year. Matthews caught 67 passes for 872 yards and eight TDs last year and creates matchup problems playing in the slot. First-round pick Nelson Agholor should make an immediate impact, and second-year pro Josh Huff has shown flashes.
LINEBACKER DEPTH: Alonso joins DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks to give the Eagles a formidable group of inside linebackers — if healthy. Alonso missed last season with Buffalo because of a torn ACL, and Ryans missed half the season after tearing his Achilles tendon. Kendricks also had injury issues.
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