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Chip Kelly on KNBR: Reading between the lines

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Chip Kelly had a fun and feisty interview with Murph and Mac on KNBR Friday. What did we learn?

If you haven't heard Chip Kelly's interview with Murph and Mac on KNBR, it's worth 20 minutes of your time. Here's the audio and a transcript.  Predictably, Chip didn't announce all of the Niners' starters and schemes for next season, but it was certainly entertaining. And if you read between the lines, he revealed some useful information.

The coach treats interviews and press conferences the way most guys would talk sports with their buddies over some beers, with lots of riffing, arguments and ball-busting. On the one hand, he really engages his interrogators and can ramble in interesting directions. On the other hand, he plays rough and won't hesitate to mock a stupid or trite question.

Here are some things Chip said Friday, with my annotations:

Q: Whatchyou been up to?

A: Nothing. Just hanging out. Lot of vacations. Lot of down time. Nah, we've been working back here since April 4 with the older veteran players.

Chip jokes around a lot but rarely cracks a smile or laughs. His humor is drier than freeze-dried dessicant in Death Valley, and it bugs some people who aren't used to it. Like most coaches, he's famously workaholic.

Next, Murph (or was it Mac?) asked him a subtly pointed question about whether having ex-Duck DLs Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner was "a safe landing" for this newly hired coach, like having guys you know from high school in your freshman dorm.

Q: Was there a warm reunion ...?

A: There was, but to use your analogy, I imagine those two guys would have been the biggest kids in your dorm, also. There's a reason for it. It's not the comfort level, it's the talent level. And they're both extremely talented. Their best football's ahead of them, and they've had outstanding college careers...

This was basically a slyly disguised question about his much-alleged "Oregon bias," and Chip swatted it away without getting defensive. He also directly confirmed the expectation that the two 6'7" DL would play defensive end in the 3-4 base and rush inside in the four man front on passing downs.

Then he was asked about new defensive coordinator Jim O'Neill, and gave a very interesting answer. First he emphasized O'Neill's ability to teach, something Chip prizes (but that his staff did not always accomplish in Philadelphia). He went on:

...what I've seen here in the three or four months we've been working together, I think his package is likable, it's learnable, it's aggressive, we're gonna get after the quarterback. It's a quarterback-driven league, and you have to disrupt the timing of the quarterback or you're going to get picked apart. It relies on a lot of man coverage on the back end, that's why we got a couple more corners here in the draft, to go along with the players we already have.

Do I detect a note of faint praise? I can't be sure, but "likable" is not a description I've ever heard for a tough defense.

Kelly defers a lot to his position coaches and coordinators, to the point where it's hard to know how much of the D comes from Chip at all. "Fire Billy Davis!" was a rallying cry for fans all three years Chip was in Philadelphia. At Oregon, Nick Aliotti was the DC ten years before Chip took over as his head coach.

But the two teams he's head coached switched to a 3-4 defense after he came in, and both are switching back to the 4-3 now that Chip has departed. In Philadelphia, he emphasized tall CBs and press man coverage; his comment here suggests that will continue. The lack of an effective pass rush was a problem in Philadelphia last year, though, and Chip is clearly tackling that issue right away for the Niners.

Q: Who's your starting quarterback in 2016?

A: I have no idea. We're not playing a game until September. At this point in time, it's early, and one of the players, Colin, is injured right now, ... That won't be determined until preseason camp.

In an article here Saturday, James Brady of SB Nation was skeptical of Chip's answer.

Kelly, from everything I've read, is the kind of guy who knows what he wants and I'd be shocked if he didn't already have a suspicion of his starting quarterback next season. Whether that's Gabbert or Kaepernick, I have no idea.

I'm not skeptical. Chip has favored open competitions at quarterback whenever there was not a clear starter -- such as 2012, when Oregon's mobile (and experienced) sophomore Bryan Bennett faced off against an obscure redshirt freshman named Marcus Mariota.

In 2010, sophomore Darron Thomas edged senior Nate Costa. And in 2013, Michael Vick beat out Nick Foles in Philadelphia before his injuries gave Foles a second chance.

One big reason for Chip's fast-paced practices is to generate plenty of snaps for every prospect. By the end of training camp, the hope is that one QB will have clearly earned the job and everyone will have seen it happen. For what it's worth, in each case the younger, faster-running QB won, and the white QB lost.

That doesn't mean Chip has a QB competition every year. Darron Thomas was set in 2011, after leading Oregon to the National Championship Game the previous year, and Mark Sanchez was clearly Foles' backup in 2014. Chip said there would be a battle between Sam Bradford and Sanchez last year, but it never materialized. (Sam got 90% of snaps in training camp).

The Eagles only QB competition in 2015 was beween Tim Tebow and Matt Barkley -- and both ended up getting cut. Given the mid-season quarterback controversy between Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert last year, and Chip's lack of experience with either, I expect a heated training camp competition this year.

Later, Chip was asked about comments by Joe Montana, who said that Kaepernick may be too quiet.

I think the first thing in being a leader is you have to be authentic. So you can't be something that you're not. And there have been many great leaders that were quiet, but um, you know their actions, their ability to care about other players, their ability to kind of put themselves in the back and put other people in the forefront, ...

What do Marcus Mariota, Sam Bradford, Nick Foles, Darron Thomas, Michael Vick and Chip Kelly all have in common? They all are (or were) quarterbacks who did not scream and yell, preferring to lead by hard work and quiet example. That's Chip, and every quarterback he has chosen to start.

The rest of the interview is a lot of wise-cracking and discussion of other sports: the Sharks, the Warriors versus Portland and OKC, and Chip's Bruins -- particularly the game where star Roy Borque peeled off his jersey (#7) on the ice to hand it to Bobby Esposito, formerly #7, who was being honored that night.

Mac: Yeah it was really, it was awesome. It was a great Boston moment.

Murph: So when Blaine Gabbert loses his job to Kap will he take off his jersey and hand it to Kap, over there on the 50 yard line at Levis? I'm kidding....

Chip: Are you going to give up your microphone to Mac, is that how that works? Are you going to hand your microphone over when all of a sudden when Mac gets a little bit more questions in than you do?

Murph: Wow! Chip Kelly. That's rushing the net, what do you call that in hockey, standing in front of the crease? Is that what you call it, or did you....

Chip: Naw, I just ran the goalie over right there.

The metaphorical "goalie" here, of course, was Murph himself. But everybody seemed to be having fun.

In Philadelphia, Chip's interaction with the media turned ugly last year along with the team's record, as reporters -- some openly skeptical from day one -- got nasty and Chip grew defensive. So far, the Bay Area press seems to enjoy his confident sparring. We'll see if that lasts through what is likely to be a pretty tough season.