The San Francisco 49ers invested a late sixth round pick in quarterback Jeff Driskel, as they continue trying to figure out their quarterback situation. Head coach Chip Kelly had positive things to say about Driskel, but with Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick the ones competing for the starting job, Driskel will remain a developmental project for the time being. That being said, this does not necessarily mean he will be inactive throughout the 2016 season.
Driskel has been getting some work on special teams. He is not working as a returner, but it sounds like he might be doing some work as the personal protector for the punter. Special teams coordinator Derius Swinton was asked about Driskel working on special teams (full transcript). Here’s what he had to say:
What does it say about QB Jeff Driskel in particular participating?
“I think when you look at a guy like Driskel, he has a rare skillset for a quarterback. I mean, I look at the Los Angeles Rams and their punter [Johnny Hekker] was an All-American quarterback going into college and now you look at him. So, we want to put a little thing in the back of their heads that if we throw him out there, what can you do now if we have our PP who can throw the ball, he can run the ball? Now maybe coach Kelly has his whole offense at his disposal now because our PP is a quarterback.”
Was that your idea to have him out there or did Driskel volunteer?
“I think it’s something we all talked about as he got in. He’s a guy that’s athletic. He’s a guy that when he was at Florida, you saw him run all over and I think when you have, it comes down to a 53 man roster and if you do carry a guy like that, you just look at numbers. For me, I’m playing the numbers game. I try to squeeze every little bit out of it. You have a guy like [QB] Thad Lewis, when I had him as a rookie, Thad will tell you he covered every kick for us on practice squad. So, if you have a quarterback that can do that, it pays dividends for us.”
Earlier today, Pro Football Talk mentioned that he has the kind of size and speed (6’4, 234 pounds, 4.56 40) that can work in that protector role. The punt protector is the player you see lined up off center a few yards ahead of the punter. They run signals, and the team can run fakes through the position. Having a player with significant throwing potential opens up opportunities to run fake plays. The 49ers won’t be running fakes every single game, but it does at least instill in the opponent’s mind that it is possible. Their punt return team would then need to keep that in mind, and adjust their blockers accordingly.
A random note, but the 49ers had to use a third string QB in the personal punt protector role back in 2005. Cody Pickett took over the role due to various injuries ahead of him. It was not a permanent role for Pickett.
This could actually be something to keep an eye on when the preseason gets here. If you’re Chip Kelly and Derius Swinton, do you want to hide the potential for a return, or do you run one or two to get people thinking about it when the regular season arrives? I would lean toward the latter because you likely won’t be running a ton of fakes, but you do want to teams potentially playing it a little more conservatively. It could make for an interesting preseason.