Patriots Notebook: NH's Chip Kelly is all business as Eagles pay a visitBy ZACK WARD
Special to The Union Leader
August 13. 2014 9:52PM
Eagles vs. PatriotsWhat: Second NFL exhibition game
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
TV: WMUR Channel 9, WBZ Channel 4
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Born and bred in New Hampshire, Chip Kelly had never been back to New England with his Philadelphia Eagles before this week’s visit to Gillette Stadium for joint practice sessions with the Patriots.
But, as the former Manchester High Central and University of New Hampshire player and coach did his best to make clear during Wednesday’s media availability, this is a business trip, not homecoming week.
“We’re here to kind of go to work,” Kelly said when asked if any friends or family from the Granite State had attended the previous day’s practice. “And (New Hampshire) is a little bit a ways away. A couple former players of mine at (UNH) I saw yesterday at practice, so that part was good. But it’s really a business trip for us, getting ready to prepare against a really good team.”
Nevertheless, questions about Kelly’s ties to the area were inevitable.
As anyone more than vaguely familiar with Kelly knows, he keeps close ties to his roots, with a famously loyal collection of friends in Manchester and on the Seacoast. He maintained those ties when he left UNH to become offensive coordinator and then head coach at the University of Oregon, and he’s maintained them since becoming head coach of the Eagles in February 2013.
Kelly returned to UNH for the annual Blue-White Spring Game in May, and he was back in New Hampshire for Matt and Luke Bonner’s Sneakers and Speakers benefit musical festival in July.
“It’s where we grow up; it’s your family,” he said when asked again about his bond with his home state. “I think everybody does that. I don’t know many people that move away or something like that. There’s always a place in your heart (for) where you grew up. I’m fortunate that I get a chance to go home and spend time. My family still lives up there — had a lot of really, really good friends that I grew up with. And I think that’s foundations that we’re all built upon.”
At Oregon, where his head-coaching stint from 2009 through the 2012 season included a Rose Bowl victory and an FBS Championship defeat, Kelly led one of the most prolific offenses in college football. As an NFL rookie head coach, he led the Eagles to the playoffs after they’d gone 4-12 under Andy Reid the previous season.
Yet he still feels he has plenty to learn from the likes of Bill Belichick — just as he did when he used to drive down from Durham to observe practices when he was UNH’s offensive coordinator during Belichick’s first seven seasons as Patriots head coach.
“He was very gracious,” Kelly said of Belichick and those sessions. “He’s always been really gracious to the local college coaches, so they were always open for us to come in and watch.”
For the second straight day, linebacker and captain Jerod Mayo was absent from joint practice with the Eagles. The Patriots did not disclose why.
Mayo missed the end of last season with a torn pectoral muscle and spent much of the offseason recuperating, but he appeared to be healthy in training camp.
LaFell’s sunny disposition
Despite heavy rain, the Patriots and Eagles practiced outdoors, though they moved the session up to 9 a.m. to avoid lightning forecasted for later in the day and wrapped things up a bit early, at 10:50.
New England wide receiver Brandon LaFell said practicing in the wet weather was all part of getting ready for the regular season.
“You’re going deal with it sometime this year,” LaFell said. “We’ve got 16 games, everybody playing outdoors, so one of those games it’s going to be a wet ball game. So situations like this are going to get us more prepared for when it comes time to play the game.”
A former Carolina Panther and LSU Tiger, LaFell has found summer in New England to his liking.
“This is the best weather I’ve ever had in training camp,” he said. “I’m from Houston, so in high school it was hot, LSU even hotter, and Carolina — we went down to South Carolina (for camp) — it was hot. So 70 degrees, 80 degrees — we got that in Carolina, we were happy.”
And Wednesday — heavy rains and temperatures in the 60s?
“Best day ever,” LaFell said.
Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan had a notable day in coverage, with a leaping interception of a pass intended for the Eagles’ Brad Smith early in practice and a tip that resulted in a Patrick Chung interception later during 11-on-11 drills. Ryan also had a couple other breakups.
A second-year DB out of Rutgers, Ryan has spent time at multiple positions with New England.
“I think I’ve handled it well,” Ryan said. “I think I’m a team player. I think everybody on the team is. We have one goal and that’s to win a Super Bowl, so wherever they ask you to play — if you want to win — that’s what you’ve got to do for the team.”
Playing different positions has a personal benefit, as well, Ryan said.
“It helps me learn the defense in total by learning multiple positions,” he said. “It’s something new and fresh, and it’s something I can compete and try to get better each and every day.”
Stars on the sideline
In addition to causing a time change, the bad weather led the Patriots to close Wednesday’s practice to the public — one day after a record crowd of 25,317 watched Tuesday’s session.
At least two fans, however, were given exclusive access: Baseball Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa and his former Oakland A’s ace Dave Stewart, now an agent.
Zack Ward is a freelance reporter.