San Francisco 49ers

Size matters to Chip Kelly: ‘Long levers are strong levers,’ 49ers coach says

In this Sept. 26, 2015, file photo, Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (44) breaks through the Utah offensive line during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Eugene, Ore. Buckner was named to the PAC-12 All-Conference team Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015.
In this Sept. 26, 2015, file photo, Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (44) breaks through the Utah offensive line during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Eugene, Ore. Buckner was named to the PAC-12 All-Conference team Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015. AP

INDIANAPOLIS -- Now we know why Trent Baalke tapped Chip Kelly as 49ers head coach: They share an affinity for players with long arms.

"We believe long levers are strong levers," Kelly said, echoing general manager Baalke's long-held preference for linemen and pass rushers with at least 34-inch arms.

"You always look at that," Kelly said at the scouting combine on Thursday. "That's a key component depending on what position you are. Even if it's receiver. What's your catch radius? Is he a short-armed guy or is he a long-armed guy?

"That's just the way the game is, it's the way the NBA is evolving," he continued. "You can cover more space. That's always been the philosophy I tried to recruit to in college and bring to when we were in Philly. And now it really matches in terms of what Trent's looking for. We see the game the same way."

When he coached at Oregon, Kelly said the Ducks targeted the tallest, longest prep players they could find, then assigned them a position at a later date. Some wound up at tight end or along the offensive line. Others became outside linebackers and defensive linemen.

Defensive lineman Arik Armstead, whom the 49ers drafted in the first round last year, stands 6-7 and has 33-inch arms. His former linemate, DeForest Buckner, also was recruited by Kelly. He's also 6-7 and likely will be a Top 10 pick in the upcoming draft.

Said Kelly: "At one point, I think our football team rivaled our basketball team walking on campus."

Kelly on Thursday raised one of the slogans he used numerous times when he was with the Eagles: "Our philosophy has always been: 'Big people beat up little people,'" he said

He noted the best teams in the NFL tend have deep rosters that are full of bigger-body players.

"I used to spend a lot of time when I was at the University of New Hampshire watching the Patriots in summer camp," he said. "They had some really good teams there and they were big. Also, big guys don't get hurt as much."

In that way, Kelly's philosophy fits the 49ers' roster, which has been built over the years with a might-is-right philosophy. Kelly not only re-inherits Armstead but several other big-bodied players, including defensive lineman Quinton Dial (6-5, 34 1/2-inch arms) and offensive tackle Trent Brown (6-8, 36-inch arms).

"He's got great physical skills," Kelly said of Brown. "He's got great balance, he's got great flexibility. Then you see him and you're like, 'Oh my God! That guy's gigantic.'"

Kelly said that the team's other tackle, Joe Staley, was prototypical of what he wanted in an offensive lineman: someone who is physical but also has the athleticism to operate his zone-blocking system.

Given his predilection for size, Kelly is bound to be happy with this year's draft prospects.

One of the possibilities for the 49ers with the seventh overall pick is Buckner. Another is Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley who was measured 6-foot-5 3/4, 312 pounds with 10 5/8-inch hands and 35 5/8-inch arms.

Of course, not every prospect has measured up this week.

Cal quarterback Jared Goff, for instance, had nine-inch hands on Thursday, considerably smaller than the 10-inch mitts of Carson Wentz, the North Dakota State quarterback with whom Goff is competing to be the first passer drafted.

Kelly called hand size “huge” in importance when it comes to quarterbacks.

“You better have big hands,” he said. “Russell Wilson is 5-10 1/2 but he’s got 10 ¼ hands. You better have a big paw to manipulate the football.”

Then he backed off a bit. After all, Colin Kaepernick’s hands are only nine 1/2 inches. “They’re measureables,” he said. “They’re guidelines. They’re not like: ‘He has nine-inch hands. He’s out.’”

Goff, meanwhile, said he never figured he’d be labeled as small-handed.

“I’ve been told I have pretty big hands my whole life,” he said. “I heard I have small hands yesterday, apparently. Naw, I’ve never had a problem with that or expect it to be a problem at all.”

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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