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Chip Kelly at OTAs: Reading Between the Lines

Sunday we looked at the meaning behind the new coach's comments on KNBR. Today, we translate his remarks at the opening of OTAs.

After a long silence, we have now had two Chip Kelly press conferences in four days.  Here is another translation like the one we did for his KNBR comments. This is about his comments on the first day of OTAs. If you want to check out the original, here is the video and a transcript.

Chip (paraphrasing): Kap, Jarryd Hayne, Gabbert ... they're all great!

Chip never criticizes current players, or even former players. It's just not his style. His parents must have taught him "if you don't have anything good to say about someone, just say 'they're working really hard and picking the system up fast. We're real happy with their video room work.'"

Q: From what you saw of him over the last month, where did [Jarryd Hayne] fit in your ideas for this coming season?

A: I don't have any idea about anybody. We haven't, no one's put a pad on. I haven't seen guys in pads. When you're out there, especially in phase two, which we are just coming off of, we're going against barrels. We were really good against the barrels too.

Chip often says variations on this during the spring and summer. "OTAs, we were only going against air today. But we killed it against air." And fair enough. Even preseason games don't mean much. How silly is it to say who's good facing invisible defenders?

A: Everybody is here except for [NT] Ian Williams, who is rehabbing and [G] Josh Garnett, who is in school.

Chip loves his Pac-12 players, but their schedule extends into June unless they graduate early. It's been a problem for him before, with Eagles TE Zach Ertz and CB Jordan Poyer in 2013, for example, who missed parts of OTAs. The NFL really needs to work something out, or the Pac-12 schools need to find some accommodation.

Q: I ask this realizing it's only the middle of May, but based on your past experience, what sort of timetable would you like this quarterback [competition] to have?

A: I don't have a timetable. You can't put a timetable on it. It has to express itself and let it happen organically. That's the only way it can happen. And I've been involved at every level in quarterback battles, just like there's battles for every other position. But, it's going to be won on the field. It's not going to be won because we have a timetable of it has to be set by May 17th or May 18th.

This is some of that "Tao of Chip Kelly" stuff I wrote a book about. At his best, Kelly has a great mix of total confidence and very low ego - a student of the game. He observes without imposing control, delegating to his coordinators and assistant coaches, letting players assume leadership, and designing plays that shift decision-making to the players, post-snap.

I don't think he always lives up to that tremendous ideal, but it's certainly his intention and his self-image.

Ironically, when he was coaching at Oregon he mocked a reporter for using the word "organic." I guess he's gone native as a West Coaster since then.

It's not just words, though. Chips' entire system is designed to maximize this method, which I call "empirical football." In other words, as much as possible he wants to create the perfect conditions where reality "expresses itself" instead of Chip deciding what the reality is or should be.

Practices move fast to contain as many snaps as possible, plenty for every legitimate QB candidate to show their stuff. The goal is that by the end of training camp, no decisions needs to be made by the coach. It should be obvious to everyone on the team who the starting quarterback should be. IS. And it worked out that way with Marcus Mariota, with Michael Vick.

So when Chip says he has no idea whether Gabbert or Kaepernick will start, I totally believe him. It's a new system with new players and coaches. Don't predict, just run the friggin' offense and see who does better. Duh.

Q: Do you like your group to have complementing skillsets, some guys with size...?
A: I just like them all to be good.
Q: Those are the parameters?
A: Those are the parameters. We like them to be good. All of them. Not one and this guy complements him because this guy catches with his right hand, that kid catches with his left hand. We want them all to be good.

Several things going on here. Chip is saying

1) "Dude, I just told you, I don't prejudge it, I'm watching for empirical results. Were you not listening?"

2) Classic Chip humor in his first answer. Simple + blunt = funny. In other words, "Don't overthink it."

3) He's also saying "I don't know if you noticed, but the Niners had about one half of one decent receiver combined last year. It would be pretty damned cocky for me to start specializing, right? I'm going to be doing backflips out of pure joy if I can get three competent receivers on the field at the same time."

Q: You understand the line of thinking, right?

A: I do, but again you can't force it. So, it is what it is. You can say, ‘I wish and hope for this and I want this guy to do this and this guy to.' There's ideals, but then you take what you have and what's available to you and then you go work with it. Our jobs as coaches is to figure out how to maximize their strengths and put them in positions to make plays.

Chip continues, elaborating on point 3). Now that he has let go of personnel responsibilities, the coach is treating the team like the TV show Iron Chef. "Tell me the weird random ingredients I have to work with, and I'll see what I can cook up."

He has preached this for years; one of his earliest Chipisms was "Players Not Positions." In other words, he takes the talent he has and figures out how to use them, rather than shoehorning his guys into the standard roles. At Oregon, he created a new position he called the TAZR for speedy, small backs like De'Anthony Thomas -- and possibly, Bruce Ellington. It's basically an all-purpose back who can be positioned anywhere from behind the QB to out wide or in the slot.

Q: You mentioned in your opening press conference that the Niners were already doing a lot of the sports science techniques that you had used in Philadelphia. Are there things that you brought here that are new to the Niners?

A: No. One of the things that's unique is [49ers vice president of football operations Jeff Ferguson] Ferg, who runs the athletic training and [49ers director of human performance Mark Uyeyama] Uye, our strength coach, they're cutting-edge guys that have been on top of everything. So there wasn't anything I brought here that they weren't already doing or had already tried and moved on to other things.

Chip was early into Sports Science, but the league is catching up, and it's encouraging that he doesn't need to be the expert on the subject. Wearables are one of the hottest products in Silicon Valley, so it stands to reason that the Niners knew some cutting edge stuff on their own.

Q: The sleep monitoring, that type of stuff is happening here as well?

A: We didn't sleep monitor in Philly. We just talked to our guys about getting sleep, but we didn't monitor them. That's actually illegal in the CBA.

In Philadelphia, the Eagles issued voluntary sleep monitors at first, but after pushback by the players union, they retreated to an iPad survey players filled out every morning when they arrived for practice. I'm pretty sure though that if any players want a recommendation for a good sleep monitor, or help interpreting results, Chip's staff would be happy to help.

All in all, it was a very encouraging interview. Chip was noticeably relaxed and confident, and seemed to get along well with reporters. That won't solve all of this team's problems, but it's a good start.