Chip Kelly’s impressions of running back LeGarrette Blount when they were at Oregon: He had excellent vision as a runner and a devastating right cross as a fighter.
Blount’s punch-out of a Boise State player following the Broncos’ victory over the Ducks in a college football opener in 2009, Kelly’s first year as head coach, was embarrassing for Oregon and resulted in Kelly suspending the running back until mid November that season. But the incident ended up endearing Blount to Kelly because of the way he handled the situation, which involved writing a letter of apology in the school newspaper.
“I developed a great amount of respect for him in terms of what he went through and how he handled himself,” said Kelly, now coach of the 49ers, who will host Blount and the New England Patriots on Sunday. “The way he was willing to stick with it. It would have been easy for him to say, ‘Oh, I quit,’ and go get ready for the NFL. But he stuck it through, practiced with us not knowing if he was ever even going to play in a game. I think there was a lot of things that he had to do to get himself back in position to play, and he did that. So I think it tells you a little bit about LG in terms of his perseverance and his attitude.”
Blount went undrafted the following spring. He initially agreed to join the 49ers – then coached by Mike Singletary – as an undrafted free agent before ending up in Tampa Bay.
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He has been with the Patriots since midway through the 2014 season and this year leads the league with 12 rushing touchdowns. Kelly says Blount’s power – at nearly 250 pounds – is obvious but that he isn’t merely a “push-the-pile” type of runner.
“The one thing we knew right away when we got him was what great vision he has, what great athleticism he has,” Kelly recalled. “He’s got some highlight-reel type runs, both in college and the NFL.”
The 49ers’ defense ended their seven-game streak of allowing a 100-yard rusher last Sunday when they held Arizona’s David Johnson to 55 yards. Blount has surpassed the 100-yard mark three times this season and ranks ninth in the NFL with 678 rushing yards.
Kelly said his onetime pupil is the biggest runner the 49ers will face this year.
“He’s definitely a guy we’re going to have to gang tackle,” he said. “It’s going to be hard for one guy to get him down.”
Et cetera – Wide receiver Torrey Smith (shoulder) practiced in a blue, no-contact jersey after missing Wednesday’s session. Smith suffered the injury last Sunday in the fourth quarter against Arizona.
▪ Cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring) and center Daniel Kilgore (hamstring/calf) were full participants Thursday after being limited in Wednesday’s practice.
▪ Sunday’s forecast calls for a 90 percent chance of showers, something the 49ers don’t usually deal with. “We’ve done some wet-ball drills,” Kelly said. “We’ve done them during the preseason, and we’ve done them in weeks where we thought we were going to play in some rain situations. So we’ll continue to work on that.”