Garrett Celek was on the phone last month with his older brother, Brent, who played three seasons under Chip Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles. Little brother admitted to big brother that he was feeling a bit run down.
“And he goes, ‘Oh, you guys are starting minicamp already?’ ” the 49ers tight end recalled. “And I said, ‘No.’ He starts laughing on the phone and says, ‘Wait ’til minicamp starts. It’s really hard.’ ”
That minicamp is now over, and Celek and his teammates readily admit Kelly’s practices are as taxing as advertised. It’s not so much that the new head coach has them running more than previous coaches. It’s that there’s much less time to rest between plays.
“It’s quicker – you’re up to the line (of scrimmage) faster,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “I actually like it because I’m usually the last person to jog back to the huddle anyway. Just getting lined up, you can catch your breath there and you can also catch the defense off guard.”
Older 49ers, especially those who played under Jim Harbaugh, likely will feel a jolt.
Those offenses were known for their plodding, methodical nature. Players would return to the huddle, where they would receive and relay a long play call, break the huddle and then – ideally – snap the ball with a just a few seconds remaining on the play clock.
Kelly’s hurry-up offense is dramatically less verbose. In fact, it often doesn’t use words at all. Instead, hand signals are flashed from the sideline as soon as the last play ends.
“It’s like learning a new language for us, and sign language at that,” Smith said. “It’s different, but it’s very organized and very detailed the way they teach it.”
The goal? Speed.
“There’s a reason we can go so fast,” Celek said. “It’s a simple offense. Once it clicks, we can just go, go, go.”
Celek also noted that the delay-of-game penalties that were problematic in Harbaugh’s system won’t be an issue now.
“It’s a lot quicker,” he said. “We have hand signals, so you can’t have 15 words through hand signals, stuff like that. It’s got to be: boom, boom, boom. So when you got less verbiage, it’s easier to remember. It’s kind of genius.”
The offensive players say it will take time to adjust to the new approach. And defensive players have yet to chime in on the effect a quick-tempo offense has on them, a loud critique of Kelly’s offenses when he was in Philadelphia.
The 49ers’ offensive players felt they began to find a rhythm on the final day of the minicamp on April 28. Next week, the team will assemble again for the first of three Organized Team Activity (OTA) sessions before ending the offseason with a mandatory minicamp June 7-9.
One of the goals until then is getting a big rookie class – 23 players, including draft picks and rookie free agents – up to speed with the rest of the team that, for the most part, has been working together since April 4.
New wide receiver Devon Cajuste said he bicycles every weekend, dabbles in cross-fit training and was considered a fitness devotee at Stanford. But that offense is similar to the 49ers’ under Harbaugh, and he acknowledged he’ll need to quicken his step under Kelly.
“Very fast-paced, got to get my cardio up,” Cajuste said last week. “I usually am known as a fitness guy on the Stanford team. But not 70, 80 plays a game. So I definitely have got to step that up.”