For the first time since he left the University of Oregon, Chip Kelly has a group of quarterbacks that can run all over a defense.
That’s what the most prominent member of his 49ers group, Colin Kaepernick, is best known for. He holds the single-game rushing record for a quarterback, 181 yards. Even last year, a season in which he started just eight games, Kaepernick ranked seventh among quarterbacks in rushing yards.
In recent weeks, however, Kelly has noted the running skills of his other passers.
“The one thing that jumped out right away was just how athletic Blaine is,” Kelly said Friday on KNBR radio of Blaine Gabbert, who has a jump on being the 49ers’ Week 1 starter. “We did not play against him while I was in Philly, so this is really my first exposure to him.”
Meanwhile, the 49ers used a sixth-round pick on quarterback Jeff Driskel, who played at Louisiana Tech last season. Driskel was the fastest quarterback in the 40-yard dash at the combine, with the 49ers clocking him at 4.47 seconds. Kelly and 49ers general manager Trent Baalke immediately cited Driskel’s speed after drafting him.
The one thing that jumped out right away was just how athletic Blaine is. We did not play against him while I was in Philly, so this is really my first exposure to him.
San Francisco coach Chip Kelly on 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert
“It’s interesting, the three of them – if you look at Driskel, Blaine and Kap – they’re all 6-4 plus, and they all can run,” Kelly said. “All of them are at 4.6 (seconds in the 40-yard dash) or under 4.6, which is kind of rare to have three guys that can kind of do the same thing. But it’s beneficial to you.”
A fourth quarterback, Thad Lewis, is not known for his running ability. He has 55 rushing yards in six career NFL starts.
Kelly had a similar dynamic at Oregon.
In Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas and Marcus Mariota, the Ducks had quarterbacks who could pressure defenses with both their arms and legs. In Kelly’s four years as Oregon’s coach, the team’s starting quarterbacks rushed for 2,112 yards and 26 touchdowns.
In Philadelphia, Kelly mostly worked with Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford, none of whom is known for running ability. Last year, Bradford rushed for 39 yards and no touchdowns.
Still, Kelly has said that while he values athleticism, accuracy and good decision-making trump a quarterback’s running ability.
I want a quarterback who has the ability to run and not a running back who can throw. 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.
Chip Kelly in 2013, when he coached the Philadelphia Eagles
His tenure in Philadelphia, for example, began with a mobile passer, Michael Vick, who is faster than Driskel, Kaepernick and Gabbert. But Vick completed only 53.8 percent of his passes in his first five starts that year and was replaced by Foles. Foles completed 64.0 percent of his passes that season, and the Eagles went to the playoffs.
“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.”