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Chip Kelly at Training Camp: Reading Between the Lines

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Chip Kelly spoke to reporters today as training camp kicked off. What did he say, and what did he mean?

NFL: San Francisco 49ers-Minicamp Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Our long summer nightmare is over, as the Niners began real training camp today. Here are some of the things the coach said today, with background from his Oregon and Philadelphia coaching stints. If you want to check out the original press conference, here’s the video and a transcript.

On the quarterback competition:

“I think we’ve got 24 reps today with the ones. So, [Kaepernick will] get 12 of those and he’ll get 12 reps with the twos. So, him and [QB] Blaine [Gabbert] will split it right down the middle with the ones and the twos.”

When Kelly has a quarterback competition, everything is divided up as evenly as possible, and there are plenty of reps to go around. The goal is for results on the field to make the decision, not the coach. The way it worked out in Philadelphia in 2013 (with Mike Vick and Nick Foles), and at Oregon in 2012 (with Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett), everyone knew who won. There was no controversy and the team was 100 percent behind the winner, because everyone could see who was clearly better.

That’s what Chip wants to happen with Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, and he’s going to make the comparison as fair as possible to help that process.

Q: Is there a time limit that’s ideal for one of these guys to emerge?

“I don’t think there is and I think sometimes if you put a preconceived date on it, it’s not fair. ... I just think they express themselves ...how they express themselves. Obviously, you’d like to get it done sooner rather than later. But, you don’t want to get it done sooner and then make the wrong decision.

Chip at his philosophical best. He’s not trying to impose any judgement. He’s just going to let reality express itself. Why predetermine who should be better, when you can run your offense with the players on the team, and see who really is?

What traits will determine the winner?

(1) “I think, first and foremost, is who can move the team the best. That’s what you’re always looking for. ...

(2) Obviously, you have to protect the ball in doing that. ...

(3) Repetitive accuracy is a big thing in terms of being able to move, as I said earlier, move the ball down the field. That’s a huge part of it.”

I added those numbers, because #2 got buried in his explanation. But not turning over the ball is very big for Chip. The difference between Nick Foles in 2013, when he surprised everyone, and 2014 when he struggled en route to a trade and a benching in St. Louis, was his turnovers. The number everyone remembers from Chip’s first year is 27-2, the ratio of Foles’ touchdowns to interceptions. Mike Vick lost his starting job even after his injury healed, and Matt Barkley never got significant playing time, because they both turned over the ball too often.

Kelly doesn’t need a flashy “home run hitter” chucking 60 yard bullets. He’d rather have a careful QB who doesn’t give the ball away and takes the opportunities that the offensive scheme will give him. Because the scheme will give him opportunities, whoever it is.

Q: How do you make sure the offensive line corrections are done [during practice] in a way that others guys get it during practice?

“If you look at it, every one of our periods is followed by a teach period. So, it goes team-teach-team-teach-team-teach. So, it’s built into the practice schedule itself. So, if you look at what coach Flats does, there’s opportunities during special teams, we film practice, we actually watch practice during practice.

So, you’ll see our guys with the Surfaces out there and when Flats has an opportunity. We may be going to punt, so the offensive line’s not involved in punt but Flats will take or myself will take a look at the Surface while practice is going on and then not only can we say, ‘Hey, on the third play of team, you stepped with your inside foot, you should have stepped with your outside foot.’

You actually can show them visual evidence of that. So, our guys do a great job, our coaching staff does a great job of coaching guys within the practice itself.”

This is another welcome sign of Chip adapting in his second coaching stint. At Oregon especially, and also in Philadelphia, on-field teaching was minimized to maximize the number of reps. Teaching was generally reserved for the film room or other meetings. Chip’s coaches would even sub players out of a drill just so it could keep going while a single player received instruction. Now it looks like they will mix in drills for some players — such as special teams drills — to allow teach time for those not involved.

This change has two advantages. It does give more of a chance for immediate correction of technique errors. It will also ease the relentless workload of practices, something that several players — mostly veterans over 30 — complained about in Philadelphia.

Q: Are you still conducting daily hydration tests and do you have any softer restrictions this year?

“Anything that’s done from an assessment standpoint is handled by [director of human performance Mark Uyeyama] Uye and the strength and conditioning room and Ferg.

Those guys, as I said when I first got here, for some reason no one heard of sports science until we got to Philadelphia. It was going on everywhere in the National Football League and these guys have been on the cutting edge of that for a long time.

I’m very confident in those guys handling anything they have to do from that standpoint. Whatever they’ve done in the past, they are continuing to do the same thing.”

I asked Chip about this at his first press conference in Santa Clara, because a number of players felt that the daily hydration tests — a urine test — was really aimed at checking up on their partying habits.

It was an unfair perception but a real one, that caused significant friction between Chip and some of the Eagles. That was too bad because hydration really does prevent soft-tissue injuries, and the Eagles were among the best teams in the league at avoiding them.

This is a very encouraging sign, that the coach has defused this issue while supporting the existing sports science regime in San Francisco. As he indicates here, part of the problem may be that the Eagles organization decided to aggressively promote Sports Science! as part of their brand after hiring Chip. The whole issue got overblown.

Do they handle socks?

“As long as they’ve got socks on, they aren’t getting blisters, we’re in good shape.”

The follow up questions concerns another one of Chip’s strictures in Philadelphia that rankled some players, notably star RB LeSean McCoy. Chip historically has wanted players to all wear the same white socks, as a gesture of team solidarity. In other words, no one is flashier or cooler, they’re all in it together. McCoy actually put white duct tape over his colored socks at one point to “comply” while protesting, and after he was traded to Buffalo he complained to reporters more than once about the goddamned socks.

Obviously, the coach has decided the gesture of team solidarity wasn’t worth all the headache. Another very encouraging sign that he has in fact thought through what worked in Philadelphia and what didn’t.

RT Anthony Davis — will he rotate in with the first team in training camp?

“Yeah, well, AD is going to start on the bottom. He hasn’t been here in the spring and he’s got a lot to learn. ... [F]or the early part of camp, the number of reps are distributed the same. So, the ones get the same amount of reps as the twos as the threes. ... Then as we start to get closer to Houston, which is two weeks away, then we’ll start to hone in on exactly where they are. “

Chip is a big believer in process. The first team is who was starting at the end of last season. Anybody new (including returnees like Davis) starts at the bottom. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first round draft pick or the starter two years ago or a UDFA.

There are tons of reps, and everyone has a chance to move up the ladder. But it all boils down to results on the practice field and in preseason games. DeForest Buckner started with the third team as well, though I expect him to move up and very likely start in week one. But everyone has got to earn it.