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Training Eagles To Fly In The NFL

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Apr 25, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Lane Johnson (Oklahoma) is introduced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as the number four overall pick to the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2013 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 25, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Lane Johnson (Oklahoma) is introduced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as the number four overall pick to the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2013 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Training Eagles to fly in the NFL.  The goal of every other NFL team is to conduct camps and off-season programs that are effective in training draftees to succeed in the NFL.   Its nothing new.  Every team does it.   Each team has some success.  Some team are more successful.  It’s an annual event, and is something that doesn’t get much press.  But Chip Kelly is training Eagles to fly in the NFL.

Training camps have notoriously been tedious and painful.  Modern NFL training camp styles are fairly uniform, coaching, practicing repetition, coaching up mistakes, rinse and repeat.   However, these techniques were fast forwarded by the former head coach of the University of Oregon, Chip Kelly.   We all remember the stories out of those first camps:  Loud music, simultaneous position drills, fast paced, smoothies, sleep monitors.  It seemed as if the Philadelphia Eagles had suddenly broken the ranks of tradition and became purposeful in their training.   Each drill, each repetition was filmed so that coaching to correct mistakes became something that was done in a film room, not on a practice field of the training camp.

Why was that important?   Well, under the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), coaches have limited amount of preseason encounters with their players on a practice field.   Rather than exhaust the time fixing individual techniques on the spot, Chip Kelly’s sense of time management makes better use of that time by getting everyone large number of repetitions.   The goal is to train the body to act automatically.  Afterwards, they individualize correction so that everyone can benefit without delaying practice repetitions.

Much was reported about the Chip Kelly experiment.   Many veterans of the game scoffed at the notion that a head coach could make a difference.   But in a story written by Jen Cohen Crofton, on July 25, 2013, it was clear that owner Jeff Lurie was impressed with the strategy that he sank over $1 million into new sports technology equipment.     In this report, Crofton describes the use of biometric equipment from Catapult Sports which is an

engineered matchbook-sized GPS devices that are packed with sensors and worn on a player’s uniform to measure and collect biometric data (that is, information about an individual’s body performance). Aspects of play that are measured through the device include agility, force, and acceleration.”

Judging by the results of this outlay, you can logically expect the Eagles to be on the forefront of additional outlays this year as well.    Investing in the monitoring is only one spike of the wheel.   Chip Kelly has looked to make optimal use of player training time through the use of stations, of repetition, of separating coaching up a player via “correction time” from the pace of rapid training exercises that are NOT halted if a mistake is made.  For positions, there were introductions of new equipment to assist in overcoming typical challenges.  There were the “human fly swatters” to assist quarterbacks in throwing passes beyond the outstretched arms of defenders, there were footballs attached to an elastic band to assist ball carriers from fumbling.  If a mistake can be made in a game, Eagles were training how to overcome or avoid those mistakes altogether.   And it seemed to work.  the team bounced from one of the worst giveaway teams in one year to one of the best takeaway teams.   It was chaotic, but it was aimed at improving the team.

To the fans, a training camp of controlled chaos was based on faith in 2013.  But having seen the results of a roster that, from the top player to the bottom, was prepared and capable of achieving a division winner in one year, the goal was clear.     Too many training camps focused on the first string – the starters – but most of the real coaching work is needed by the rookies and new-comers to the team.  In Kelly’s system, everyone from top to bottom gets repetitions.   Motion is continuous.   Practice drills are measured, and when time runs out off the players go to the next drill, or eventually to the nutritional smoothies, hydration testing, weight lifting, or some other results driven activity.

“Our time is used effectively. Coach is very efficient with the way he runs practice. Every minute that we’re on the field out here we’re doing something constructive, something geared toward making us better.  There’s no wasted time and everything is moving fast and it allows a lot of guys, especially a lot of younger guys, to take advantage of it, because they’re getting a lot more reps than they would have with other teams, because there are more reps.” – DeMeco Ryans in an interview with Reuben Franks, July 27, 2013.

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