Chalkboard X’s and O’s: Chip Kelly’s Offense and the NFL

The Read Option has spread like wildfire throughout the college game thanks to a mixture of athletic quarterbacks, downhill running offenses, and creative head coaches willing to test the limits of offensive ability. Such coaches as Rich Rodriguez, Bill Snyder at Kansas State, Urban Meyer, and Chip Kelly have revolutionized the option game.

Now as those quarterbacks are transitioning to the NFL with the skill set to also throw the ball successfully, such coaches as Mike Shanahan in Washington, Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco, and now Chip Kelly have embraced the zone read option as another wrinkle in their offenses.

Let us take a look at Chip Kelly’s offense as he is the most notable name to enter the NFL since Steve Spurrier’s tenure with the Washington Redskins.

A great resource:

Let’s go back in time a bit further than Oregon, however, to a sleepy little period from 1999-2006 up in the Northeast. Chip Kelly and his offense, in particular the talents of QB Ricky Santos and WR David Ball, were lighting up the then I-AA land of football at the University of New Hampshire. Ricky Santos would win the Walter Payton Award in 2006 (the equivalent of the Heisman) before Chip departed to Oregon in 2007.

Here are some single shot highlights of Santos and New Hampshire against Delaware in 2006. Credit to the amazing CAAFootball on Youtube for the video.

The first image shows Santos getting the snap out of shotgun and features a fake to the WR coming at him (think the West Virginia style Jet Sweep under Dana Holgorsen). The hard charging LB in blue gets “chipped” by an OL, allowing Santos to slide back to his left and complete a throw down the wide open middle for the TD.

In addition, Chip Kelly unveiled a lot more of an old school feel to football formations during his time at New Hampshire as seen below. The play itself was nothing more than a simple HB Dive to the deep single back. The TE is lined up on the left side whereas the Wing WR is lined up just off the RT, allowing for 7 blockers against a 4-3 alignment favoring the weak side of the offensive formation.

Credit to qedask for the David Ball Highlights on Youtube. From 2005, you can see Chip Kelly align in a shotgun formation with a HB offset right and 2 WRs stacked on the right side. Now note that the OL has a 2 TE look as well. The beauty of such a formation is that it can be a pass or a power run downhill too. The defense is forced to anticipate the run, allowing for single coverage outside. In the actual play, Chip fakes the outside zone run.

Chip also resorted to experimentation with a lot of 2 TE sets as well. Another 2 TE set can be seen here with Santos in Shotgun, HB offset right, and 2 WRs lined up outside.

Finally, Chip continued his experimentation with stacked WRs to the same side. In the following image, again, Chip has Santos aligned in Shotgun with the HB offset left and a TE on the line of scrimmage. The WRs to the left side of the formation are lined up in Trips. Again the defense is forced to respect the pass but the alignment also allows for a power inside running game too.

A lot of people expect Chip Kelly to bring the Shotgun 4 WR Spread to the NFL and utilize its heavy up-tempo Zone running game, especially the Zone Read option, that he developed at Oregon.

After studying his tactics and formational use at New Hampshire, I think Chip Kelly has a chance to not only be an immediate success but to also confound the media and critics with the unexpected. Or in the case of New Hampshire fans, the already known. In particular I think Chip will be using a multitude of formations ranging from a “base” Shotgun 3 WR look (similar to what Peyton Manning has done in Indy and Denver) with the versatility to roll out 2 TE sets and 4 or 5 WR looks from Shotgun too.

Credit to for main image


Written by David Hunter

David Hunter enjoys writing about wrestling, sports, music, and horror!

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