Is Chip Kelly Hurting His Team by Playing Favorites Early On?

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 6, 2013

Aug 24, 2013; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly reacts after a fumbled snap during the second quarter of their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

Back in March, we wondered if new Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly could remain objective while assessing fellow former Oregon Ducks for spots on the team's roster. Now that free agency and the draft are over and Philly's 53-man roster and eight-man practice squad are set, we can conclude that Kelly probably hasn't played heavy favorites early in his NFL career.

Five former Ducks are among the 61 players either on the active roster or the practice squad. However, only one—safety Patrick Chung—is slated to start, and only two more—linebacker Casey Matthews and wide receiver Jeff Maehl—are part of the final 53. Offensive lineman Isaac Remington and defensive end Brandon Bair are on the practice squad.

It was strange to see Matthews make the team instead of Emmanuel Acho, and I thought Russell Shepard and Greg Salas were better options than Maehl at wide receiver. Kelly traded offensive tackle Nate Menkin for Maehl early in the preseason, though, and when you trade for a guy, it's an indication you have plans for him. 

Kelly also signed Chung on the first day of free agency and brought in Remington (a rookie undrafted free agent) and Bair (a veteran undrafted free agent) this summer. So four of the five Ducks on the team were acquired by him, and Matthews was retained despite the fact he was clearly outplayed by Acho during the preseason.

In August, Matthews missed four of his 12 tackle attempts and was graded by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the worst defensive player on the Eagles roster. He's been a bust, while Acho showed flashes in camp and the preseason.

“If we were going to sing the Oregon fight song, it would,” Kelly said when asked if he was trying to put a distinctive Oregon stamp on the Eagles roster, per Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly. “But besides that, I'm familiar with them and I know what they can do.”

I think that's a relatively understandable explanation.

I think we must also consider the possibility that Kelly might know how to coach some of these former Ducks up in ways that Andy Reid or any other non-Oregon alum might not have figured out. And at the end of the day, going with Matthews and Maehl over Acho and Shepard probably won't cost Philly any victories. 

Don't get me wrong, there will still be a very strong Duck presence in Philly. Those five players are kicking around, as are the handful of assistant coaches Kelly brought with him from Eugene.

Approximately 15 percent of the players and coaches who will be hanging out at the team's facilities on a day-to-day basis hail from Oregon, but Kelly also brought in three newbies who went to Iowa and added a fourth former Cincinnati Bearcat by signing Connor Barwin. 

Here's a breakdown of the most heavily represented schools on the Philadelphia roster and practice squad:

Keep in mind that Kelly also cut former Oregon star Dennis Dixon and avoided Ducks with his eight draft picks. 

Pete Carroll has taken plenty of shots with USC players in Seattle and Greg Schiano has six Rutgers alumni in Tampa. I fully expected Kelly to collect some Ducks, and I'm not concerned about how that transpired.