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Dissension And Discord Festering In 3-0 Eagles Locker Room?

Last year the Philadelphia Eagles were 10-6 in the regular season, having won the NFC East and made the playoffs under first year head coach Chip Kelly, who was hired out of Oregon to replace Andy Reid. They may have been bounced in the Wildcard round by the New Orleans Saints, but it was the first time the Eagles had seen the postseason since 2010.

That marks a very impressive turnaround from the 4-12 season they slogged through in 2012.

Thus far in 2014 they’re off to an even better start. Last year they had to play catch up after starting 3-5, this season they’re 3-0, one of just three undefeated teams remaining in the NFL going into Week 4. And since winning has a magical way of keeping the peace within a locker room, at least early on, you’d think at the moment Philadelphia’s locker room would be somewhat serene.

But in that case, you’d think wrong.

After a hard-fought divisional win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday, Eagles cornerback Cary Williams, who has a history of oversharing with the media, decided to air a list of grievances he has with coach Kelly’s intense schedule.

He believes there’s a correlation between Philadelphia’s sluggish starts—they’ve had to overcome sizable deficits in each of the first three games to win—and the team’s training regimen. “We do things differently here. We play a game before the game,” Williams said.

Per CSN Philly, “In a normal week, they would have Monday off and varying degrees of practice Tuesday through Saturday. Under Andy Reid, however, the Eagles normally had Tuesday off — and if they won on Sunday, sometimes they’d have Monday too. At the most, Monday was for meetings and film sessions.”

“I’m burnt out. Burnt out. I’m not the only guy that feels burnt out,” Williams said. “I’m just a guy that’s man enough to stand up for players and just say that we’re burnt out. … My legs hurt. My legs were done in the fourth quarter. My legs were done in the third quarter. My legs were done before the game started.”

Williams made it clear in his statements that he was not only speaking for himself, going out of his way more than once to speak in the collective.

“Something has to be modified and something has to be changed, and I’m not afraid to say, ‘Hey look, that’s what needs to be done.’ I’m not hurting anybody,” Williams said.

“I just know what this locker room feels like. I know what the guy to the left of me to the right of me feels like. I know what it’s like, so I’m in close connection with these guys. It’s not just an individual game. It’s a team game. You’ve got to understand, you need all 11 guys out there on the field.”

Whether Williams truly is speaking for the collective is not known. It’s hard to imagine he’d make such a public statement and drag his teammates into this mess without conducting a few informal polls first, but his outspoken nature in the past certainly made it easier for Kelly to largely dismiss the whole thing when questioned about it Monday.

And that’s exactly what he did.

“He was frustrated,” Kelly said. “I have no issues with Cary. Cary’s just a competitor. He always wants to play a perfect game. He’ll tell you he just got frustrated.”

Kelly conceded “we ask our guys to run” more than is standard around the league, but insisted it was nothing beyond their abilities, noting that every player is closely monitored on an individual basis and assessed daily. The underlying, but not implicitly stated, message being that the individually tailored training means that Williams couldn’t be possibly be speaking for anyone beyond himself.

Although Kelly did his best to explain away something that never should’ve been made public to begin with, he wasn’t the least bit convincing when he said he wasn’t bothered by Williams’ decision to take his concerns to the media—no coach is okay with this sort of behavior. He brushed off the possibility that the issue extended beyond Williams and said that players are free to voice their opinions to the media, but that his door is always open.

The fact of the matter is that something toxic is brewing (mostly) behind the scenes in Philadelphia. Williams may not have been speaking in an official capacity on behalf of all his teammates, but the certainty of his statements are not that of a single exacerbated athlete lashing out at his coach. He may not be speaking for everyone, but it’s clear he’s speaking for at least some of them, whether they want him to or not.

The whole situation raises concerns that often arise when a coach transitions from college to the NFL. Collegiate coaches often have a very authoritative leadership style, which goes over well enough with teenagers who are used to being bossed around. But Kelly is dealing with full grown men in Philadelphia who, as it turns out, might not like their boss dictating every hour of every day for them.

In addition to the rigorous practice schedule, Kelly is reportedly very involved in both the diets and sleep schedules of Eagles players. They are expected to sleep 10-12 hours a night and required to wear special bracelets that monitor their activities. Or non activities, as the case may be.

Kelly was able to shut down the conversation today, but the Eagles have a very tough schedule ahead of them and at some point are going to lose a couple of games. If this powder keg isn’t properly disseminated before that happens, the whole thing is gonna blow.

Should that happen and Kelly is unwilling or unable to adapt or compromise with his players, there’s a very real chance he could find himself out of a job come January.

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