After trading up to draft USC quarterback Matt Barkley in the fourth round in 2013, then-Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly was asked why Barkley was a good fit.
“In this league, you have to be able to throw the football,” Kelly, now the 49ers’ coach, said then. “Repetitive accuracy is the No. 1 thing we are looking for.”
From that point, “repetitive accuracy” became a refrain in Philadelphia. “He said that a thousand times,” said NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell, who closely watched Kelly’s tenure with the Eagles.
Last year, after the Eagles traded for quarterback Sam Bradford, Kelly said, “I think, in this league, getting someone who can throw it (is crucial). You’d better have repetitive accuracy. You’d better have someone who can win a game throwing the football.”
Then before the Eagles played the Washington Redskins in Week 16 – Kelly’s final game before he was fired – he said about Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins: “When you watch the tape, the thing that stands out is the repetitive accuracy. He is extremely accurate with the football. He doesn’t seem to put the ball in harm’s way.”
Barkley, Bradford and Cousins aren’t known for their running ability, a skill possessed by all of Kelly’s quarterbacks when he coached at Oregon, and one many presume Kelly has been longing for as an NFL coach.
But Barkley, Bradford and Cousins are accurate. Cousins, for example, completed a league-best 69.8 percent of his passes in 2015.
I could easily see (Blaine) Gabbert being more effective in Chip’s offense than (Colin) Kaepernick. Now one of the problems that Chip has had in the NFL is he likes to get five (pass catchers) out, which increases the pressure on your quarterback. And that’s not Gabbert’s strength. And you need a really good o-line, which he did not have in Philly and which he certainly does not have in San Francisco as we speak right now. Greg Cosell, senior producer at NFL Films
Kelly’s desire for “repetitive accuracy” raises questions about how he perceives the quarterbacks he inherits with the 49ers. During Kelly’s introductory news conference Wednesday at Levi’s Stadium, he is sure to be asked about the 49ers’ quarterbacks, especially Colin Kaepernick.
Kelly explored trading for Kaepernick last spring, which suggests he thinks he can win with Kaepernick running his offense. He and Kaepernick also spoke briefly at the 49ers’ team facility Monday, a league source said. Kaepernick had been rehabilitating from shoulder, thumb and knee surgeries in Colorado, but is back with the team now.
Kaepernick is similar athletically to the quarterbacks with whom Kelly had smashing success at Oregon. But Kaepernick has completed just 59.9 percent of his passes in his career, and his 59 percent rate in 2015 was 30th of 34 qualifying quarterbacks.
Blaine Gabbert, who replaced Kaepernick after eight games, completed 63.1 percent of his passes, 18th in that category.
Both are very good runners – Kaepernick has the NFL’s single-game rushing record for a quarterback, 181 yards – with college backgrounds in read-option offenses. Kaepernick averaged 5.7 yards a carry in 2015; Gabbert averaged 5.8 yards. Both are under contract with the 49ers for the 2016 season.
“I could easily see Gabbert being more effective in Chip’s offense than Kaepernick,” Cosell said. “Now one of the problems that Chip has had in the NFL is he likes to get five (pass catchers) out, which increases the pressure on your quarterback. And that’s not Gabbert’s strength. And you need a really good O-line, which he did not have in Philly and which he certainly does not have in San Francisco as we speak right now.”
Kelly’s tenure in Philadelphia began in 2013 with a mobile passer, Michael Vick, the first quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. But Vick completed only 53.8 percent of his passes in his first five starts and was replaced by Nick Foles. Foles completed 64 percent of his passes that season, and the Eagles went to the playoffs.
Foles’ percentage, however, dropped to 59.8 percent in 2014. Kelly wasn’t happy, and before the 2015 season he traded Foles to the St. Louis Rams for Bradford, who completed 65 percent of his passes last season.
While Kelly received improved accuracy from Bradford, the Eagles didn’t match their 10 victories in each of Kelly’s first two seasons. Bradford threw for 19 touchdowns with 14 interceptions, and the Eagles had six victories when Kelly was fired.
63.1 Blaine Gabbert’s completion percentage in 2015, 18th in the NFL
Is Kelly now seeking the athletic quarterback he has largely been missing as an NFL coach? In 2012, Kelly’s final season at Oregon, quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 68.5 percent of his passes and rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns.
Kelly undoubtedly would love to have a quarterback like Mariota who can pass and run. But to this point, he’s been clear on his priority.
“I want a quarterback who has the ability to run and not a running back who can throw,” Kelly said in 2013. “That’s been the biggest misconception. If there’s an opportunity to get a first down, get it. But in this league, you have to be able to throw the football.”