Anyone unfamiliar with Chip Kelly's unique way of disguising play calls might confuse the Philadelphia Eagles' sideline for a commercial promoting the City of Brotherly Love.
There's the Liberty Bell, Rocky Balboa, the Phillie Phanatic, Benjamin Franklin, Will Smith as the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ... and even a cheesesteak.
Kelly has chosen some iconic Philadelphia figures — and foods — for those placards his staff hoists on the sideline to convey plays to those on the field. It's a system Kelly began using three years ago at Oregon. He borrowed the idea from Oklahoma State, which used the posters against Oregon in the 2008 Holiday Bowl.
Don't try to figure it out, though. The specifics are a mystery, and Kelly won't allow players or coaches to discuss it.
"They represent a lot of things," Kelly said when first asked about it by the inquisitive Philadelphia media, refusing to elaborate. "We could tell you what all our signals are, but that's not going to help us. I'm not going to explain why we go through that whole thing."
Well, it has a lot to do with the speed of the game. The Eagles don't huddle much, they run plays quicker than most others in the NFL — a strategy that Kelly has dubbed the "See Coast Offense" — and symbols from the sidelines are quick to pick up.
You see, communication is key with Kelly's offense, so any edge will be exploited. And even though he can communicate with his quarterback through headset technology — something he couldn't do in the NCAA — the signs are staying.
And why not? After all, Philadelphia has shed a slow start and is now 7-5. With four games left, the Eagles are tied for first place in the NFC East with Dallas, and eyeing the postseason.
When Kelly first started using the amusing placards at Oregon, it was no secret he did it to communicate plays faster and speed up the Ducks' lightning-fast offense. Now, that's been translated from Saturdays in the Pac-12, to Sundays in the NFL.
Mark Helfrich, who replaced Kelly as Oregon's coach, explained the meaning behind the cryptic signs in 2010 when he was Kelly's offensive coordinator.
"We tried to have one word to communicate 10 words," Helfrich said at the time, "or one picture to communicate 10 words, something that would give our guys an immediate association so they could get out there and play fast."
The Ducks used a variety of seemingly nonsensical photos, including the bearded Burger King, a map of New Hampshire, a battleship and ESPN sportscasters Rece Davis and Lee Corso. The signs were split into quadrants of pictures. Kelly has changed it up in the NFL. The Eagles use single photos on each poster instead of four pictures.
Players are so afraid to reveal anything that both sides — offense and defense — insist the posters are not for them.
"I saw that stuff at Oregon, so I knew it was coming but I didn't know which pictures they would choose," Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. "When I saw the Fresh Prince, I started laughing. Everything has to do with Philly. I don't even know what they mean. It's for the offense."
Rookie left tackle Lane Johnson says otherwise.
"I'm telling you, man, they're all for the defense," Johnson said with a straight face.
Even newcomer Brad Smith wouldn't slip up. The versatile Smith signed with the Eagles last month to return kicks, play special teams and perhaps even take a few snaps at quarterback in certain situations. He's also a wide receiver, so he has to know the offense. Apparently, he received the memo about secrecy.
"I'm just trying to find my own way," Smith said. "I don't know what they are, but I know it means something to the defense."
One assistant — sports science coordinator Shaun Huls — will hold up to two placards at a time, holding one up high and another low. They're used alongside traditional hand motions and other odd signals such as assistants karate-kicking or arm flapping to speed up the no-huddle offense.
But the signs don't necessarily identify plays. They could represent snap counts, formations, motions, routes or even nothing. That makes it nearly impossible for opponents to decipher. It's sort of Spygate-proof. Even the New England Patriots, who were caught illegally filming signals of opposing coaches several years ago, couldn't crack this code.
Besides some of the Philly-themed images, the Eagles also have used placards of Elvis Presley, Bart Simpson and the Oregon Duck, of course. Players can't say much, but they will reveal their favorites if pressed on the subject.
Kendricks breaks into the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when asked to pick his favorite.
"West Philadelphia born and raised," Kendricks sings. "The Fresh Prince is the funniest one."
Johnson and Smith like the Phillie Phanatic.
"It's big, bright, green," Smith said.
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