At Sunday’s press conference, Chip Kelly was asked what he thinks of the Niners’ late first round pick, guard Josh Garnett. His answer highlighted two of the intangibles that Kelly emphasizes: intelligence, and an even keel.
“Really sharp. I think he’s got a real good mind from a football standpoint. The other thing with him, he’s a real steady guy out there.”
Garnett chose Stanford over the University of Washington because they were a better pre-med school, and USA Today called him “the valedictorian of the NFL Combine.” His post football plans? To become a trauma surgeon.
“He’s real cerebral. He’s got a great understanding of things.”
That is especially important in Garnett’s case because he missed OTAs due to the PAC-12’s late school schedule; NFL rules prohibit ungraduated students from joining the team that drafted them until school has finished for the summer.
“So, he’s been impressive since he got here, especially because we only really had him for mini-camp. We didn’t have him for the full offseason program because he was still finishing up school there.”
The other key trait is steadiness.
One of Kelly’s catch phrases is, “Play with emotion. Don’t let emotion play with you.” There’s a whole chapter on that concept in my book “The Tao of Chip Kelly.” He elaborated on Garnett:
“There’s not a high, low, or whatever. He’s just very consistent in his approach. He probably acts a little bit older than a typical rookie.”
To Chip, that maturity includes focusing on continuous, daily improvement in the technique of your position, not the emotional highs and lows of winning (or losing) ego battles against other players. And not beating yourself up so bad for mistakes that you can’t focus on getting better.
If he makes a mistake, he can readily correct it. Sometimes when you’re trying to give him feedback on a play, he already knows what transpired and why he wasn’t successful on that play. So, a lot of fun to coach and obviously comes from a great background playing for [Stanford head coach David Shaw] Dave over at Stanford.
When combined, those two intangibles yield a third one that Kelly also prizes: versatility. As the Niners coach knows all too well from coaching in the PAC-12, Stanford had a dominant offensive line that was deployed in a number of creative ways.
The Cardinal ran a Jumbo package with seven, eight or even nine offensive linemen all over the field — not just at the goal line. And Garnett, a unanimous First Team All American, and winner of the Outland Trophy as best interior lineman in the nation, was a big part of it all. The way Chip put it Sunday was:
“They did a lot of different things on the offensive side of the ball and he’s played different positions. He actually played some wing [tight end] as a freshman. They do a lot of multiple offensive line packages. So, he’s played a lot of different spots. He’s played on the right side and the left side.”
If you’re worried that Garnett’s positive intangibles might indicate that he’s soft or a goody-two-shoes, you can relax. The dude has a vicious streak and an NFL pedigree; his father Scott Garnett, a nose tackle, played with four NFL teams (including the 1985 Niners).
When a reporter from his hometown Tacoma News Tribune asked what his goal was on each snap, Garnett replied:
“Run through their souls. ... Go right through them.”
Stanford coach David Shaw called him “physical and nasty” and added:
“What I’ve got to say about Joshua is, on the offensive line there always has to be a fight starter. There’s always got to be someone who says the first words or throws the first punch. There’s no question that was Josh. ... The rest of our guys followed.”
It’s not a shock that this combination of steadiness and aggression, of brains and brawn, appeals to Coach Kelly. All rookies start with the third string in training camp, but Garnett has already moved up to the second. No one will be surprised if he is the starting right guard when the regular season begins.