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Chip Kelly talks about time with 49ers, what he’d say about Colin Kaepernick to other teams

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The former 49ers head coach got a chance to chat about his time in Santa Clara. He had plenty to say.

Former San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly is working for ESPN this year, covering college and NFL action each weekend. Kelly recently sat down with Adam Schefter to discuss a whole host of topics, football-related and otherwise. While Kelly and the 49ers were a disaster together, he remains a fantastic interview subject. He was always fun during his weekly KNBR interviews, and his interview with Schefter was great. You can listen here.

Kelly talked about his time both in Philadelphia and Santa Clara, and naturally that brought up a few interesting topics.

Colin Kaepernick

Naturally, Schefter asked Kelly about his time with Colin Kaepernick. The protest took place early in Kelly’s season with the 49ers. Given some of the issues people raised in Philadelphia, and claims of racism, it was a fascinating subtext to Kaepernick’s protest, and by all accounts, Kelly really could not have handled it better. After the protest became public knowledge, a team meeting was held, at which Kaepernick addressed his protest.

There was a lot of talk about the distraction it created, and some continue to cite the distraction as a reason to avoid signing Kaepernick. Schefter asked Kelly what it was like coaching Kaepernick last season, and Kelly addressed the distraction issue.

Kap was awesome. At the beginning of the year, made a stance in terms of what he believes was right, and we recognized and supported his ability to do that. But he never brought that into the locker room. We had a meeting the day after the Green Bay game that he did it in the preseason, and he explained to all the players his thought process and mindset of what he was doing. And there were some players that agreed with him, there were some players that didn’t agree with him. But after that point, we heard from the outside about what a distraction it is, except those people weren’t in our locker room, and it never was a distraction, and Kap never brought that and turned it into a circus, or whatever people think. Came to work every day, and extremely diligent in terms of his preparation, in terms of his work ethic in the weight room, in terms of his work ethic in the meeting room, and I really enjoyed Kap. I’ve talked to Kap three or four times since we both left San Francisco. I know he’s working out really hard in New York right now. I think he’s a really good person and a really good player, and I really enjoyed coaching him.

Schefter followed up by asking Kelly what he would tell a team if they called and asked him about signing Kaepernick. Kelly said that it was exactly what he had just told Schefter.

I think people that aren’t in there, when you just talk about, we had a trade talk earlier (in this podcast) about what happened here, what’d you offer, and when you tell people it never really got that far — when you’re not there, it’s easy to speculate on what it’s like, but he is zero distraction. And he’s a really good person, I like Kap a lot. And he really wants to win, and he’s highly competitive, and he’s got a real good physical skill set to play the position, and has played it at a really high level. I also don’t think that he played at his top level last year because he was coming off of three surgeries. I think the Kap this year will be better than the Kap last year. He’s proven like he did in 2013, he was a play away from winning the Super Bowl. I think that experience, his physical skillset, his mindset, I would tell anybody that, zero distractions, and a really talented player that can help you win.

Takeaway from time in Santa Clara

It was an ugly 2016 season for the 49ers, and Kelly summed it up pretty well when Schefter asked about his takeaway from his time in Santa Clara. Kelly was appreciative of the attitudes of the players, and felt they played with a good mindset and attitude in spite of the struggles. However, one fact summed things up pretty well for how badly things went last year.

You watch them compete — you know, we lost to Seattle at the end of the season by two. At that point in time on our 46-man roster, I think we had put 20 guys on IR during the season. And then not that I believe in omens, but our third tight end, Je’Ron Hamm, went up in pregame warmup in a pat and go and broke his ankle before the game started. It was just one of those years. But I really enjoyed, I thought our players from a mindset and an attitude standpoint were awesome in how they competed and played. Just worried about what they could control, and controlled their efforts and controlled their attitudes. And it was a lot of fun coaching that group on a daily basis. So I really enjoyed that aspect of it.

What 2016 49ers player he expects to break through in 2017

Schefter’s last big question about the 49ers was which player from 2016 Kelly expected to break out in 2017. It is no surprise Kelly offered up a former Duck in response!

Arik Armstead, who is a really, really talented defensive lineman, and started the year off, and I don’t think anybody knew, had a real bad shoulder, and tried to really play through it. And eventually we had to shut him down, I can’t remember what game halfway through the season, because it wasn’t beneficial to Arik for him to continue to try to try. He’s got a huge upside, and I think a healthy Arik Armstead, people will really be, not surprised because he was a first round draft pick, but I think, you get him 100 percent healthy and ready to go, I think he could be a real force on the defensive side of the ball.

Armstead played defensive tackle at Oregon and then with the 49ers his first two seasons. This year, Armstead is moving to the LEO role, slimming down a little bit in preparation for a more attacking role. He will likely play LEO in the base defense, and then move inside to defensive tackle when the 49ers go into their sub-packages.