Analysis  

 

Chip Kelly headlines intriguing group of coaches entering Year 2

It'll be at least a few months before anyone can pass any sort of judgment on the Philadelphia Eagles' decision to cut ties with DeSean Jackson.

Jeremy Maclin will come back strong from ACL surgery, or he won't. Rookie Jordan Matthews' impressive spring will translate in the fall, or it won't. Second-year pro Zach Ertz will break out as a versatile chess piece, or he won't. Quarterback Nick Foles will take another step forward, or he won't.

It's complex. What we already know isn't: Chip Kelly got the attention of every Eagle with the abrupt release of a three-time Pro Bowl receiver in his prime.


Around The League predicts the Week 1 starting lineups for all 32 teams, analyzing the potential impact of each rookie class.

AFC East
» Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
AFC North
» Bengals | Browns | Ravens | Steelers
AFC South
» Colts | Jaguars | Texans | Titans
AFC West
» Broncos | Chargers | Chiefs | Raiders
NFC East
» Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Redskins
NFC North
» Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South
» Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers | Saints
NFC West
» Cardinals | 49ers | Rams | Seahawks

"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."

Kelly is one of seven coaches remaining from the eight members of the Class of 2013. (The eighth, Rob Chudzinski, was fired by the Cleveland Browns after just one season.) And a year into Kelly's tenure in Philly, it's very clear he's swinging the same kind of big stick that his predecessor, Andy Reid, wielded.

Results like Kelly's Year 1 trip to the playoffs help, but history shows duplicating a fast start is a tougher trick to perform.

From 2008 to '12, 28 new coaches were hired. Nine made the playoffs in their first year on the job. Of those nine, six got back in Year 2: John Harbaugh, Jim Caldwell, Rex Ryan, John Fox, Jim Harbaugh and Chuck Pagano. Meanwhile, 17 of those 28 coaches have since been fired, including Caldwell (who ended up being hired by the Detroit Lions this offseason).

Even if a team has some success early under a new coach, there's no reason for anyone to start feeling comfortable. And whether it was his intent to send the message or not, Kelly ensured, by whacking Jackson, that no one in Philly would rest on their laurels.

"Everybody's definitely bought in -- from the football training part of it to the weight room, and all the sports science types of things," McCoy said. "Everybody's bought in."

Is that the case with every team led by a coach heading into Year 2? Let's take a look as Kelly, Reid and Mike McCoy try to join the aforementioned group of six, Bruce Arians and Marc Trestman aim to build on positive starts, and Gus Bradley and Doug Marrone look for leaps as overhauls of their respective organizations continue. For additional perspective, I enlisted the help of a pair of rival pro scouting directors, who break down each club's biggest questions going forward.

Arizona Cardinals

2012 record: 5-11
2013 record: 10-6
2013 playoffs: N/A

The next step: The Cardinals had a banner draft class last year, general manager Steve Keim's first at the helm, and that's not counting the top-10 pick, offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, who's now returning from an injury that cost him his entire rookie campaign. Add that to promising springs for third-year studs Michael Floyd (receiver) and Justin Bethel (cornerback), plus some notable free-agent signings (offensive lineman Jared Veldheer and cornerback Antonio Cromartie), and there was a lot for coach Bruce Arians to crow about. Until, that is, the bad news came on suspended linebacker Daryl Washington. If the Cardinals can sort out their situation at that position -- with Karlos Dansby also gone, having left via free agency -- and squeeze another good year out of quarterback Carson Palmer, they should be in the mix for a postseason berth.

NFC scouting director: "Does Carson have enough left to get them to the next level? And with (Larry Fitzgerald), how big is the window? ... Washington's their playmaker, and he's out. You're not sure where (Tyrann) Mathieu is gonna be. There are questions."

AFC scouting director: "It's their offensive line. They lost Cooper last year, and some of their issues were in keeping the quarterback clean; that's No. 1. No. 2 is replacing Dansby, which is compounded by losing Daryl Washington. And then Mathieu -- is he ready? Did they address the outside pass rush?"

Buffalo Bills

2012 record: 6-10
2013 record: 6-10
2013 playoffs: N/A

The next step: The draft-day trade-up for receiver Sammy Watkins was a good sign that the clock has accelerated for coach Doug Marrone and GM Doug Whaley. But what's interesting here is how the Bills have continued adding bad-weather elements to the team, signing bruising fullback Anthony Dixon and linebacker Brandon Spikes and dealing for physical tailback Bryce Brown, who will be an early-down understudy to Fred Jackson. Another sign the Bills were looking for some edge? Tabbing Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator. There's pressure on this regime to win in its second season, given the ownership situation. But there's talent, here, too.

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NFC scouting director: "EJ Manuel -- is he really the guy? The formula here is, the best friend to a young quarterback is a run game, and they trade up for Sammy. Is EJ really good enough? ... Defensively, they're good; they've got probably the best interior combo in the league, though you don't know the situation on (Marcell) Dareus -- will he be suspended? And they took steps to shore up the run defense."

AFC scouting director: "A lot will depend on how well (Manuel) can develop and improve. I like their defense, though; it can keep them in games. The run game can keep them in games. ... They can be competitive. And the addition of Sammy will be very interesting to see. There's no discounting his ability -- it's how he got the football at Clemson, and how that differs with how he'll get it with the Bills. The redesigned perimeter game with him and (Mike) Williams will be interesting."

Chicago Bears

2012 record: 10-6
2013 record: 8-8
2013 playoffs: N/A

The next step: Coach Marc Trestman's debut season impressed. Yet, the Bears regressed, record-wise. That said, it's certainly true that the first-time NFL head coach got plenty out of the talent on hand, with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery emerging as one of the NFL's top receiving tandems, the offensive line solidifying, and running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett posting career years. Conversely, coordinator Mel Tucker's defense needs help. The secondary and D-line got a makeover in the past few months; that's where the progress will need to come. Trestman's offense should be dynamic. His defense has to be at least passable.

NFC scouting director: "Is (Jay) Cutler worth the investment? Can he show he's healthy and can exceed what (Josh) McCown did? He's more talented, but can he put the team on his back? Defensively, the secondary's an issue. They made a commitment in free agency to get after the quarterback, but the safety play, they've been weak there and it's been that way for a few years."


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AFC scouting director: "It's the retooling of their defense. They spent on the line, (while) the linebacker core is aged. How does Shea McClellin convert to outside linebacker? They drafted (Kyle) Fuller, so they're intact at corner, but there are questions at safety. ... I think they'll be in the same position on Dec. 1. It's whether they can get over the hump in December. ... Defense is the question."

Jacksonville Jaguars

2012 record: 2-14
2013 record: 4-12
2013 playoffs: N/A

The next step: The job Gus Bradley did last year -- holding a young team together despite starting the season with eight straight double-digit losses -- should get more praise than it does. And it paid off in a 4-1 run that followed the Week 9 bye. The commitment GM Dave Caldwell and Bradley made to playing young last year should pay off in 2014. The 2013 draft class gained ample experience and showed great promise for the future. The Jags still need to get better just about everywhere, and now the coaches have the task of planning ahead with quarterback Blake Bortles, the No. 3 overall pick. But based on the steady progress, and despite a late losing streak (Jacksonville lost its last three games of 2013), there's every reason to believe the team will be better this fall.

NFC scouting director: "How long the suspension is gonna be for (Justin) Blackmon, and whether they're committed to sitting him so he can get his life in order. ... Bringing the Seattle guys (Red Bryant and Chris Clemons) over, I think the defense will be much improved. ... Gus and Dave have a vision, stuck to their vision -- they're both smart and knew it'd take patience. The job Gus did last year set them up to go forward."

AFC scouting director: "Program on the rise. They made an investment at quarterback, they redesigned their receiver group. ... With (Toby) Gerhart, they'll probably go to a power run game. I see the evolution in their defense, the types of guys Gus had in Seattle. ... Another team that takes another step. What they did last year was establish a culture, play hard, compete, not quit, and they did that for 16 games."

Kansas City Chiefs

2012 record: 2-14
2013 record: 11-5
2013 playoffs: Lost to Indianapolis Colts in wild-card round.

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The next step: Coach Andy Reid inherited a roster with a half-dozen core players on their second contracts -- as sure a sign as any that a group is squarely in its window of opportunity -- added a quarterback and led a nine-win turnaround. The encore might be more difficult. Veteran signal-caller Alex Smith is in a contract year, and the future of linebacker Justin Houston is murky, while cornerback Brandon Flowers is gone. Plus, the team has to flip second-year pro Eric Fisher to left tackle and replace three of his linemates. It'd certainly help if some of the 2013 draftees made a sophomore leap. Smith's difficult contract situation looms large.

NFC scouting director: "They lose Flowers, and I know (Dunta) Robinson was older, but he's gone, too -- and that's two of their top four corners. What is their plan there? And offensively, are you moving forward with the quarterback? If you can't do a deal with Alex, are you willing to tag him?"

AFC scouting director: "Do they have the ability to build on instant success, comparatively speaking, with San Diego there (in the AFC West), and the moves that Oakland made, where they won't be a pushover anymore? ... It's the ability to withstand the losses and keep on building. And, of course, will the quarterback negotiation become a distraction?"

Philadelphia Eagles

2012 record: 4-12
2013 record: 10-6
2013 playoffs: Lost to New Orleans Saints in wild-card round.

The next step: Again, this is now Kelly's team, and you know what that means: As McCoy puts it, "If the referee's putting the ball down, we ain't going fast enough." The NFC East looks shaky, so the door is wide open for Philly to build on its success. Teammates say Foles is running the offense more confidently now, willing to take chances in practice and test himself, knowing the job is his. As mentioned above, Maclin and Matthews will be tasked with replacing Jackson, with Ertz helping, too. Funny as it sounds, special teams might be the area to watch. That, and the pass rush.

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NFC scouting director: "Can Nick Foles repeat his performance, and will the offense be as efficient with (defensive coordinators) having time to adjust? Defensively, can their corners match up? I'm not a big fan of their corner group; they need to get better. And last year was a conversion year, going to the 3-4. Will they make the jump other teams do in Year 2? ... Most NFL teams play within the numbers. Chip makes you defend the entire field. He stretches you horizontally and vertically. He pressures you. How will defenses adjust?"

AFC scouting director: "No more DeSean Jackson, and I'll be curious to see, in Year 1, where the explosive plays come from. Can you maintain the same level of explosive-play production without DeSean? One thing the Eagles tried to address was pass rush, so how fast can the Louisville kid (first-round draft pick Marcus Smith) contribute? And they have a few guys, but no difference-makers at corner."

San Diego Chargers

2012 record: 7-9
2013 record: 9-7
2013 playoffs: Beat Cincinnati Bengals in wild-card round, lost to Denver Broncos in divisional round.

The next step: Coach Mike McCoy told me last year that, when he landed the gig in San Diego, he "was confident that if everyone around (Philip Rivers) was doing their job better, (Rivers would) be fine." Rivers, as it turns out, was better than fine, notching the most complete statistical season of his career and leading San Diego back to the playoffs. Trouble is, the AFC West is getting tougher, and so is the schedule. The Chargers open with the Cardinals and Seahawks and close with the Ravens, Patriots, Broncos, 49ers and Chiefs. The offense should be real good again, while the defense should be better. Looking at that slate, there's certainly no room for slippage.

NFC scouting director: "The health of their receiver core -- where's (Malcom) Floyd's neck, and how long will Keenan Allen's knees hold up? ... (McCoy) will have to adjust if the receivers aren't playing as well; he'll run it to win. You saw how he adjusted with (Tim) Tebow in Denver (where McCoy was offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2012). The second thing with San Diego is the corner position. They'll have to make do there. (Jason) Verrett is on the smaller side, so it'll be interesting to see how he matches up with the bigger receivers in that division."

AFC scouting director: "The offensive line was something that needed to be upgraded. ... Will Floyd give them anything? I think he can make a difference, and if he's back, it gives them a big receiver group. ... They drafted Verrett, and it'll be interesting to see if he's a starter or just a nickel contributor as a rookie. ... The Chargers snuck in (to the playoffs), and made some noise when they got there, so part of it'll be not having false pretenses about who they are. The dominoes fell in place. Now it'll be continuing to build."

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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