Arik Armstead’s relationship with Chip Kelly began with a surprising admission for a football coach trying to land a prized recruit for his college program.
“He told me during my home visit there was a possibility he might leave,” the defensive lineman said. “I appreciated that honesty, him not lying to me and saying, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be here the whole time you’re here, blah, blah, blah.’ ”
It was honest and accurate.
Kelly recruited Armstead, who played at Pleasant Grove High School, to Oregon in 2012, then left the following year to coach the Philadelphia Eagles. Still, Armstead liked the direct approach of Kelly, who was hired to coach the 49ers on Jan. 14, and former Oregon defensive-line coach Jerry Azzinaro, who now will be Armstead’s position coach with the 49ers.
Armstead, a first-round draft pick last year, is the only 49er who has played for Kelly, and the distinction means he has been answering teammates’ questions about the new coach. Some popular queries: “Just how brutal are our practices going to be?” And, “We have to pee in a cup? Every day?”
He has his way of thinking and his way of coaching. And if you don’t buy into that, then I don’t think he really wants you to be a part of what they’re doing.
49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead, on new 49ers coach Chip Kelly, who recruited Armstead to Oregon
Kelly’s offense is famously fast-paced, and players go at a similar clip during the week. The sessions are short but intense. And Saturday practices – typically a walkthrough everywhere else in the NFL – also include a lot of running.
The 49ers already incorporate many of the sports-science techniques that received so much attention when Kelly was with the Eagles. Players wear small GPS devices that track their movement during practice, and each receives an individualized fruit smoothie after practice.
Something the 49ers have not been asked to do heretofore will be incorporated: supplying daily urine samples. Kelly believes hydration is a critical component of his team’s approach, and he and his staff monitor the players’ hydration levels. In Philadelphia, Kelly even had a daily ranking of which players were doing the best and worst jobs drinking water.
Asked about “urine tests” last week, Kelly indicated they would be part of the 49ers’ routine.
“Well, I think first off it’s not a test,” he said. “It’s just to tell you are you hydrated enough to go out on the practice field so that you don’t pull a muscle. So I think you’re just trying to put the players in a position so that they don’t get injured.”
Armstead and others who played for Kelly at Oregon said they found the hydration routine more interesting than intrusive.
“I thought it was pretty cool, the scientific aspect of football and how to get your bodies ready to play,” Armstead said. “I thought it was a cool thing.”
John Boyett, The Sacramento Bee’s 2007 Player of the Year out of Napa High School before playing safety at Oregon all four years Kelly was coach in Eugene, said the new 49ers coach is always looking to get the most out of his players.
“I think one thing about coach Kelly is, he’s not afraid to try something new if he thinks it gives his team an edge,” said Boyett, who was a sixth-round draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 2013 but never played in the NFL because of legal issues. “As a player, I really respected that. Anytime you get information that can help you as a competitor, you want to take it and run with it.”
The most alarming complaint while Kelly was with the Eagles came from running back LeSean McCoy after he was traded to the Buffalo Bills last offseason. He said Kelly got rid of the Eagles’ best players, “especially all the good black players. He got rid of them the fastest.”
Others who have played for Kelly came to his defense following McCoy’s comments. Other controversial personnel moves during Kelly’s tenure with the Eagles – trading quarterback Nick Foles, releasing guard Evan Mathis – involved white players. Armstead said no 49ers teammates have asked him whether Kelly makes decisions based on race.
I thought it was pretty cool, the scientific aspect of football and how to get your bodies ready to play.
49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead, on Chip Kelly’s hydration routine for his players
“If they did ask me, I would tell them they’re crazy for thinking that,” Armstead said. “I think that was more about his philosophy and not everyone agreeing with his way of doing things. He has his way of thinking and his way of coaching. And if you don’t buy into that, then I don’t think he really wants you to be a part of what they’re doing. That’s where that stems from.”
What can Armstead’s teammates expect from their new coach? The answer is similar to the blunt sales pitch Kelly and Azzinaro gave Armstead when he was being recruited to Oregon.
“We want you, and you can come be part of something special,” Armstead said Azzinaro told him. “But I’m not going to kiss your butt. It’s going to be a lot of hard work.”