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Were Chip Kelly’s practices in Philadelphia too intense?

Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters unloaded on his former coach Thursday, Should we be concerned?

Yesterday, the Eagles Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters had some harsh words for his former coach. The potential Hall of Famer complained that:

  • Kelly’s off-season practices were too hard, and didn’t ease up during the season.
  • The team “practiced on Tuesdays when Chip was here, and you felt it on Sundays."
  • The offense was too predictable.
  • “Any vet that stood up and had something [negative] to say, [Chip] got rid of him.”
  • New coach Doug Pederson, an NFL backup QB, understands veteran players better.

While the Eagles’ losing record last year was the key to Kelly’s firing, he had also clearly lost support among at least some of the players. And Jason Peters’ words carry a lot more weight than the average player.

The lunch-bucket OL star doesn’t talk a lot, but he has earned a lot of respect with his play and toughness, so his words pack a punch. Though he didn’t speak publicly at the time, there were reports last year that Peters — fighting through an elbow injury all season — took himself out of game 16 against Washington, the coach’s last game. The sense that he had lost Peters of all players undoubtedly contributed to Jeffrey Lurie’s decision to fire Kelly two days later.

So, are these comments something that Niners fans should be concerned about? Every player has an incentive to praise a new coach and trash the one that just got fired, so a grain of salt is wise. It’s fair to discount Peters’ praise for new coach Doug Pederson a bit because, what else is he going to say? Pederson decides when and whether Peters even plays.

Furthermore, Peters is 34 and increasingly fighting injuries. He did not have a good year last year, despite his Pro Bowl berth, and does not have many season left in the league. The Eagles acknowledged as much by paying their young right tackle Lane Johnson full left tackle money in his contract extension last spring.

So Peters has begun his final decline, and must have been frustrated by the collapse of the offensive line around him last year, for which Chip (as GM and coach back then) bears most of the responsibility. But Peters is too solid and stoic to simply write off his criticisms. So let’s consider them one by one.

  • “Kelly’s off-season practices were too hard, and didn’t ease up during the season.”

Mixed bag here. Chip’s tempo applies to practices even more than games, but he keeps his practice days shorter than most teams. He has also avoided tackling to the ground in training camp until the preseason, which offsets some of the pounding.

Every coach has to decide how much to run his team — in the hopes that better conditioning carries them through games — vs. letting them recharge their batteries to get through the longer season (compared to college).

Chip hopes that his sports science program allows the better conditioning approach to give his teams an advantage. But he developed this theory with 18-to-22 year old college players, and the Eagles were one of the league’s oldest teams during his time there. San Francisco is a much younger squad, and it’s possible that the exact same approach might work better here than it did back east.

On the other hand, Joe Staley is one of the oldest players on the team. He’s Chip’s second aging, stud LT in a row. It will be interesting to see if the coach eases up on Staley based on his experience with Jason Peters. It might be wise to give Staley more of a break with play calling that de-emphasizes his role occasionally, help from chip blocks, and perhaps occasional days off from practice.

  • The team “practiced on Tuesdays when Chip was here, and you felt it on Sundays."

Players get a day off either way. Is it more helpful the day after you go all out in a game, or two days after? Whatever the answer is, the Niners under Harbaugh already followed Chip’s unusual schedule, as Fooch pointed out yesterday, so it’s nothing new for the veterans on this team.

  • The offense was too predictable.

No one really disputes this point, for 2015 anyway, but the important question is, why? To my eye, it was the combination of Sam Bradford’s inability (or refusal) to pull the ball and run — which makes the zone read worthless — combined with the collapse of the offensive line.

The other factor was inconsistent RB play. Last year, DeMarco Murray was disappointing all year. In 2014, LeSean McCoy had two terrible games (22 and 17 yards total, respectively) after a brutal head-on collision with Washington’s David Amerson in game 3. The hit left him apparently unconscious on the turf, though no concussion was diagnosed. That second bad game was against the Niners in game 4. He never really recovered his pass-catching chops after that big hit.

In Peters’ interview, he cited the shotgun formation, where an RB lined up to the quarterback’s left means he will almost always run to the right, and vice-versa. But Chip introduced a play called the H-Reverse in 2014, which reverses this “tell.” Hopefully he’ll introduce more wrinkles this year.

  • “Any vet that stood up and had something [negative] to say, [Chip] got rid of him.”

Chip (or his GM, Howie Roseman) got rid of several Eagles players with a lot of personality, including McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Brandon Boykin, Evan Mathis, Nick Foles and Cary Williams. Clearly he values character, and we aren’t privy to all the interactions these players had with their coach.

At the same time, most of these personnel decisions look pretty shrewd in retrospect. Foles and Cary Williams are on the street. Boykin has been released twice and is fighting for a roster spot. Jackson, 29, managed just 528 yards last year. Shady is still good but declined to 895 yards last year, his lowest total since 2012. All have declined from strong years under Kelly.

So while we can’t know how much conflict they had with Chip behind closed doors, none of those decisions look like obvious mistakes in retrospect except cutting Mathis, whose absence was devastating to the team’s OL.

In any case, Kelly has relinquished control of the roster to Trent Baalke, so he no longer has the ability to get rid of players he doesn’t like. And if he does have a problem with veterans, the Niners are a good spot for him since there are so few left on the team.

Overall, Jason Peters is a stoic and accomplished player who has earned a right to speak his mind and be taken seriously. Hopefully, Chip Kelly is thinking through these comments and considering what he can learn from them.

There is one more factor to consider. New Eagles coach Doug Pederson has made it clear he wants to be a “player’s coach” and be more accommodating. Whether this is intentional or not, Jason Peters’ comments — and his crucial role on the team — have carved out a ton of space for him to push back against his rookie coach any time he feels he’s being pushed too hard.

That might be best thing for the team anyway, to extend his career. But even if Pederson disagrees, there isn’t going to be much he can do about it.