- Chris Sprow, ESPN Insider
In Chip Kelly's last game as Oregon head coach, a Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State exactly 13 days and 6,489 rumors ago, he did what he's done many times as the Ducks' head coach: He used his quarterback as a runner. Those who don't believe Kelly's wacky, fast-paced, college-only system can succeed at the NFL level could have laughed. They could have pointed to the Oregon quarterback executing a run fake and taking off on his own and said, "That's why! That right there is why it'll never work!" And they could have said that's all the evidence anybody needs that what the Philadelphia Eagles are doing in naming Kelly the head coach is just a glorified publicity stunt. This stuff doesn't work in the NFL, right?
And then they could have looked at the box score.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ran eight times in Oregon's Fiesta Bowl win, including scrambles. And that wasn't some wild aberration. The most Mariota ran in any game all season was 15 times against USC, when Oregon scored 62 points, and the tape shows Mariota scrambled more than a few times. Why does that matter? Well, for two reasons.
• One, because in that USC game, the freshman quarterback also went 20-of-23 for 304 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Kelly's freshman quarterback was college football's seventh-highest-rated passer. That's not the result of some gimmicky system that demands a QB can run first, throw second. In fact, Kelly's quarterbacks are often efficient passers. They've ranked sixth, 11th and 17th in passer rating in the past three seasons.
• Two, because Robert Griffin III, in Mike Shanahan's pro-style system, ran an average of eight times per game this season; Mariota was at 8.1. A majority of RG III's runs, 77 of 120 total during the regular season, were designed runs. The mobile NFL QB isn't a gimmick, it's something prevalent at every level of football now, and more are on the way, as anybody who saw Colin Kaepernick eviscerate the Green Bay Packers last week should know. Even the zone-blocking maestro Shanahan knows it.
There might be questions about Kelly's system working in the NFL, and when run at its best, the system requires a quarterback who can at least maintain the threat of running. But people who claim Kelly's quarterbacks are something akin to Tommie Frazier under Tom Osborne just haven't watched. They've let Oregon's fast-break pace blind them to the fact that Oregon does a lot of things that, say, Nick Saban does at Alabama. As Chris Brown of SmartFootball.com noted soon after we thought Kelly was headed to Cleveland two weeks ago, Kelly's oft-used running plays "inside zone, outside zone, and power (guard pull) -- are [the] same Trent Richardson ran at Alabama."
Shanahan and Jim Harbaugh are running zone-read plays, and people say Kelly is going to turn the NFL on its head? Not quite, folks.
That said, you still can expect the Eagles to consider all options at quarterback, extending beyond their roster if they have to. I'm not convinced that Kelly won't try to preserve some of the personnel already in place in Philadelphia -- again, he's not going to need the Rosetta Stone to implement elements of his offense -- but QB is a question.
Let's take a look at some options.