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Chip Kelly speaks on the 53-man roster and the decisions he had to make

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The 49ers head coach had a conference call with the media discussing the decisions that went into making the 53-man roster. You can listen to the audio of the interview here.

Talk about the decision with the quarterbacks; why keep three and what did Christian Ponder do to win that job?

I’ve always kept three, I think you need to have three in this league with the injury to quarterbacks. I’ve never been comfortable with keeping two, I think you need to have three and I think Christian’s performance coming in on the short week in Denver and how he played there and that performance again last Thursday against San Diego gave him an opportunity for the number 3 spot.

Is there a possibility that Christian will be in uniform on game days?

Right now, I’ve met with our quarterbacks. Blaine is number 1 and he’ll start versus the Rams and Kap [Colin Kaepernick] is number 2. We’ll only have two guys up on game day.

What swayed you? You held off on naming the starting quarterback for so long. What gave Blaine the advantage?

I think there was a whole body of work from April until today. I think he grasped and command of what we’re doing. I think he’s a good fit for what we want to get accomplished and have a lot of confidence in what he can do with us offensively. I think Kap is still coming off, and I talked to him about it this morning, is still coming off of getting himself healthy and 100 percent. Though he’s cleared to play but he still knows he has work to do. He’s not up to his playing weight that he was when he was successful here and he’ll continue to work on that. He missed a couple weeks there with the arm and that set him back a little bit and his ability to compete for it, but the timetable was the timetable and right now we feel like Blaine is the starter.

The decision to keep three quarterbacks. What other areas of the team did that most specifically affect.

Zero. Our plan was to always keep three quarterbacks. We didn’t say “hey let’s keep a third and that takes player away from here.” Again, my three years in Philadelphia we kept three quarterbacks and I think you need three quarterbacks.

Talk about the overhaul of the wide receiver unit You got Streater and you got Kerley.

I just look at it that we had two injuries. We lost Eric Rogers in the preseason for the year. And we lost Bruce Ellington in the preseason for the year. So really Streater and Kerley were replacing, Streater and Rogers are similar and Kerley and Ellington are similar. So we just really replaced what we lost.

After such a strong preseason that he had, how difficult was it to release Marcus Rush?

Very difficult. It was nothing really to do with Marcus, but we’re going to go with three outside linebackers on the 53 man roster. Obviously that was difficult for Marcus and how productive he was and he came into a numbers game. We’re going to keep five inside linebackers. We planned on keeping 8 linebackers all told and the work from Nick Bellore and Mike Wilhoite gave from a special teams aspect were huge for us. We’re going to keep five inside linebackers on the active roster and three outside linebackers on the active roster.

Why are you confident that Colin Kaepernick won’t divide the team going forward.

Well Kap, when he’s here at 4949, he’s all about football and all about work. That’s what I’ve seen since I’ve been here. He continues to display that every day that he’s in this building.

Obviously this is a football decision, but do you have concerns that the national discussion surrounding Kaepernick will continue as long as he’s on the roster?

Right now, again, how he’s handled himself and how he’s been with us, I have no issues with Kap at all.

What did you like about Rod Streater and what does he bring versatility-wise?

I think his length obviously. He’s a tall, long target, we felt when we lost Eric, that’s what we had in Eric. He’s really an outside receiver for us as we look at it. He’s got 109 catches in this league, so he’s proven he can play. He’s coming off a 60-catch season, I think it’s just his experience. When you’ve talked to people who have coached him in this league even the people I know, Matt Rhule [Temple University head coach] who coached him in college, they just speak so highly of him as a player and as a teammate. Again, we thought it was a big blow to us when we lost Eric in the preseason so to be able to get another outside receiver to compliment Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton, we just thought that was a move we had to make.

With the team trading inside the division, was it at all a concern you were sending L.J. McCray to the Seahawks?

Yeah, I’m a big fan of L.J. I just think we had a lot of depth in our secondary. In terms of how he fit, I know what a great integral special teams player he is. We also felt like he was going to get claimed in the waver wire and i know Seattle really wanted him so, it was the opportunity for us to pick up a draft pick who could potentially turn into another player for us instead of outright releasing him. Talked to L.J. just shortly ago, real happy for him. Our goal is for everybody to make this team, and if they don’t make our team, that they make another team. We can’t keep them all so the fact he’s going to get another opportunity to play up in Seattle, I’m really happy for L.J.

Did Marcus Cromartie’s play this offseason push from Cornerback to Safety. Did that make the McCray decision any easier?

I don’t know if it made it easier, I just know we had depth in the secondary and we feel comfortable there. We moved Jimmy Ward from safety to corner. Dontae Johnson has ability to play safety and corner. Marcus, being able to move there as we’ve talked about as we’ve gotten here, the versatility of those guys; corner safeties, offensive tackles offensive guards, you know. Inside defensive linemen, outside defensive linemen, the versatility that those guys bring just gave us a number in the secondary where we felt comfortable carrying 10. We think L.J. is an NFL player there’s no question, you just can’t keep them all. It’s the same question: “Why did you do this?” and “Could we be shorted out an outside linebacker with Marcus Rush not here?” We could be, but you can’t keep five outside linebackers and 11 guys in the secondary and four quarterbacks and and five running backs you just gotta make cuts somewhere. So, we felt our depth in the secondary is good right now and the ability to let someone like L.J. be traded where we can at least pick up a draft pick for him, I think that’s the best scenario we can get out of that deal.

Can you describe what Blaine Gabbert’s reaction was when you told him that he was going to be the starter and just how he composed himself throughout the whole time?

I think Blaine reacted the way he reacts every day here. Just very matter-of-fact for him and “let’s go to work”. I think that’s one thing you like about Blaine’s make-up is that there are not too high-highs or too low-lows. He started steady with his approach and you get the same Blaine Gabbert every day and I think that’s a good thing, especially from the quarterback position.

[note a lot of distortion in this question, paraphrasing] Given Kap’s injury and improvement from his first preseason game to second. Would you expect him to get better and better as the season goes along

I would say that’s my expectation for every player on this team. I would hope our guys don’t go backwards. I’d be doing a real bad job of coaching if that was the case.

Three running backs on the opening day roster is it safe to say Carlos [49ers running back Carlos Hyde] is good to go for that opener.

From what I understand, yeah, but he’s still in concussion protocol and has not been cleared. He was not going to play versus San Diego anyways so there was no reason to move quickly with that standpoint. But I don’t anticipate anything, I would be surprised.

With Carlos’s history in mind, how comfortable are you with keeping three running backs on this roster?

Again, I think we got a lot of really good running backs and we have some depth decisions at certain positions; linebacker, secondary, running back; that made it difficult for us. The only way I can say it, and again: we can’t keep them all. If you kept an extra running back or keep two of them, it’s a tough deal. Everybody’s gotta get to 53. We felt like for the right match-up or the right 53 is what we were trying to get. Hopefully we continue to grow and get ready to go play the Rams with this group of guys.