The San Francisco 49ers decision to hire Chip Kelly has meant we have heard a lot of comparisons to Kelly’s time in Philadelphia, and even to his time in Oregon. Whatever the story, someone will be able to find a comparison to Kelly’s previous coaching experience. It's not surprising, and it can be interesting to compare, but plenty is different from job-to-job.
During the middle of last week, Albert Breer posted his first notes column for MMQB. Breer was previously a reporter for NFL Network, but recently joined on with MMQB. In his first column, he discussed two players to watch from last week’s minicamps. Fittingly enough, he pointed to Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford, and 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert. In discussing Gabbert, Breer discussed former Chip Kelly protege Nick Foles.
Count me among those who don’t buy the notion that Gabbert isn’t a good fit for Chip Kelly’s system. Others outside San Francisco agree. “You saw what Nick Foles did with Chip—he was tremendous,” said one NFC exec. “If you look at Blaine last year with a limited cast—a very limited cast—you see he’s a better QB than Foles. He just got thrown to the wolves early on and it was easy to call him a bust. It was easy to say that he can’t play. But he’s matured, he’s clearly gained the confidence of the locker room there. … And he has all the tools you want for Chip. He moves well, runs well, he’s smart, has a big arm. I mean, everything chip wants in a QB is there with Blaine.” Now, as I mentioned earlier, these QB reclamations rarely work. But this one should at least be interesting enough to warrant your attention.
It is pretty accurate to say Kelly did some tremendous work with Nick Foles. He had a big year in 2013, completing 64 percent of his passes for 2,891 yards, and threw 27 touchdowns against only two interceptions. That was peak Foles, as he is now on the way out with the Los Angeles Rams, and is unlikely to do much more with his NFL career.
I do think Gabbert is more naturally talented than Foles, but it remains to be seen if he’ll turn it into something with Chip Kelly. He showed some things last year, but in reality was not all that great. He was playing behind a bad offensive line, with questionable play-calling, so there's that. And maybe it explains some of his questionable decisions to throw short of the sticks. But I have to think that some of the belief that Gabbert will develop into something under Chip Kelly is a combination of his draft pedigree, and what Nick Foles did. That single Nick Foles season is something that will carry on the belief for some that any quarterback can succeed under Chip Kelly.
However this quarterback competition turns out, it is going to be fascinating to see what Kelly can do with a pair of quarterbacks that one could reasonably argue bring more to the table than Nick Foles. Maybe it’ll end up all for naught, but it will make for an interesting next few months.