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Winterhawks' Johnston says Kelly, Eagles can make it work in NFL

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles routed the Oakland Raiders 49-20 on Sunday.If anyone was not surprised when Chip Kelly, Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles unloaded Sunday on the Oakland Raiders, it was Mike Johnston.

The Portland Winterhawks coach/general manager, who struck up a friendship with Kelly when the latter coached the Oregon Ducks, remains a big fan of Kelly's approach to football -- and Johnston predicts NFL success for both Kelly and the Eagles.

"Oh, yeah, I really do," Johnston says. "What he does will translate (to the NFL game)."

It did on Sunday, when young quarterback Foles tied the NFL record with seven touchdown passes, throwing for 408 yards as the Eagles beat the Raiders 49-20.

That game, of course, was a far cry from some in Kelly's debut pro season as Eagles coach.

Some weeks, the Philly offense has been on, and some weeks the Eagles have been all but totally grounded.

The defense hasn't been great, either, but somehow the Eagles are 4-5 and only one game out of first place in the NFC East, despite their 0-4 home record.

And, if it weren't for some heroics by Dallas, the Eagles might be at least tied with the Cowboys for the top spot in the division.

The Eagles are averaging 25.0 points per game -- good by NFL standards, if not by Kelly standards.

Johnston, who went to UO to watch how Kelly ran practice and share ideas with the then-Ducks coach, says better things should come for Philadelphia football fans.

JOHNSTON"I followed his first couple games, and you could see the players were excited about the new direction and the style and the practice environment," Johnston says. "But at the same time, it does take a while to get the right personnel to play that way. So for Chip, I think in his situation in Philly, he's laying the groundwork, but the results may not come until he gets the exact personnel to run his offense."

One question about Kelly's move from major college to the NFL was whether the established pros would accept -- or physically can handle -- his fast-paced system.

Johnston says they will.

"Pro players want to be successful, they want to develop and prolong their careers," Johnston says, "so if they believe what Chip is preaching will help them be successful, they're going to buy into it. It looked early in the season like they were right there, but they had various injuries, and defense hasn't come through."

Johnston says he hasn't spoken to Kelly this season, and doesn't know new Oregon head football coach Mark Helfrich, but his Winterhawks continue to be a Western Hockey League version of the Ducks -- they like to go forward quickly and often on the ice.

"I still follow the Duck games," Johnston says. "Their philosophy has been my philosophy for years as a coach -- to try to to push the pace and try to have a team that could move the puck and move at that speed."

Johnston says he believes the big -- even huge -- bodies of NFL linemen can learn to play at the Kelly pace.

"It's how you train," Johnston says. "The speed drills and the work you do in the weight room have to parallel what you do in practice. They have to be high-tempo, and there can't be a lull. Players then get used to it, and your muscles get trained to execute at that pace."

Johnston says at some point he hopes to chat with Kelly again. Who knows, maybe the Eagles coach will wind up at a Philadelphia Flyers game or in some other NHL arena.

"I may reach out and try to reconnect," Johnston says, "because Chip is a hockey guy, too."