When Chip Kelly was with Oregon and Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, there obviously was a strict embargo on sharing information. The California-Oregon border was on lockdown from 2009-2010.
When Harbaugh left for the NFL in 2011, however, the mutual admiration between the two sides could be expressed, the border opened up and a flow of ideas commenced. Harbaugh's top offensive envoy, Greg Roman, visited Kelly in Eugene, Ore. while Kelly took his own trip to Santa Clara during a break in the Ducks' season.
“Just two guys I've got great, great respect for, two really good football coaches,” Kelly, now the Eagles coach, said of Harbaugh and Roman during an early-morning conference call.
Kelly said he thought some of the notes Roman took home with him could be seen in the read-option packages the 49ers run with Colin Kaepernick, albeit with their own twist.
“... They added their own wrinkles to it,” he said. “I don't think when anybody visits anybody they say, 'Hey, I'm going to take this exactly from them.' I think you learn and think, 'How can I apply it to the personnel I have?' And I think that's one of the strengths of Jim and Greg – they adapt their offense to their personnel.”
Asked if Kelly and the undefeated Eagles are using ideas and concepts borrowed from Harbaugh, Roman and the 49ers, Kelly said, “Yes, I'm an information gatherer.”
Asked to be more specific, Kelly shut down the border. “Not off the top of my head,” he said.
One west-coast import, of course, is Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, who played for Harbaugh at Stanford and whom the Eagles selected with the 35th overall pick last year. (The 49ers had the 34th pick, traded it, and selected tight end Vance McDonald at pick No. 55).
Kelly said he liked Ertz's versatility, particularly his ability to line up at tight end, in the slot and at wide receiver. “What Zach is doing in the National Football League is similar to the success he had at Stanford,” he said.
One of the theories for why the 49ers liked McDonald more than Ertz is that general manager Trent Baalke fell in love with the former's physique. McDonald is 6-4, 270 pounds and has long, 34 1/2-inch arms. Ertz, meanwhile, has relatively stubby arms – 31 ¾ inches – which was a knock on him before the draft.
Was that a concern in Philadelphia?
“I was unaware that he had short arms,” Kelly said. “They're long enough to catch a football because he does a really good job of that.”
Indeed, Ertz has caught 45 passes for 646 yards and five touchdowns since last season. McDonald has nine catches for 128 yards and no touchdowns by comparison.
Kelly said he was surprised his former Oregon running back, LaMichael James, remains a free agent after being released Sept. 8.
“I think LaMichael's a hell of a football player,” he said. “I think maybe the timing had something to do with it because people's rosters may have been set. But I know him first-hand, I got an opportunity to coach him. I love the kid. He's an awesome football player, he's an awesome person.”
The Eagles have three running backs on their active roster.
Kelly was asked about rookie receiver Jordan Matthews, whom the Eagles took in the second round this year. The 6-3 Matthews had two touchdowns in Philadelphia's Week 3 win over Washington.
“We wanted to get bigger at the wide-receiver spot, especially in the slot,” Kelly said. “Thought it would create some good matchups for us, and it's paying off for us.”
When he’s in the slot, Matthews will be matched against 5-10 49ers rookie Jimmie Ward.