San Francisco 49ers

On 49ers: Decoding Chip Kelly as he searches for a starting QB

49ers coach Chip Kelly on the importance of slot receivers in his offense

Up Next

Quick, everyone, get out your Chip Kelly decoder rings. The 49ers’ coach was asked what he looks for in practice when it comes to a starting quarterback.

Kelly immediately responded with “precision” and “decision making.”

“Are they hanging too long on a read?” he said. “Are they quick to move on if in their progression – one or two – is covered? How quickly do they get to three? Do they get stuck? Do they get caught in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 (sessions) holding the ball too long? You know, part of it is getting the ball out on time. It’s a timing-based offense in terms of getting the ball out. So those are things that you can observe.”

The criteria seem to favor Blaine Gabbert in the team’s quarterback competition.

Colin Kaepernick, after all, has the significantly longer windup, has been criticized in the past for not going through his passing progressions and – last year, at least – was the more imprecise of the two. Gabbert completed 63.1 percent of his throws and Kaepernick 59.0 percent.

Then again, Kelly obviously is curious about Kaepernick.

Kelly easily could have gone into camp with Gabbert getting most of the first-team repetitions. Gabbert ended the 2015 season as the starter and, while Kaepernick was recovering from three surgeries, took all of the first-string, 11-on-11 snaps in the April-June practices.

The criteria seem to favor Blaine Gabbert in the team’s quarterback competition. ... Then again, Kelly obviously is curious about Colin Kaepernick.

“Yes, we will consider Kaepernick for the job,” Kelly could have said as training camp opened. “But he needs to get a few practices under his belt before running the first-team unit.”

Instead, those first-team snaps have been nearly even in the first week of training camp.

Yes, Kelly’s offense is predicated on precision and timing. But it also aspires to be relentless – to wear down defenses through three quarters and then mow them over in the fourth.

That’s Kaepernick’s strength, something at which he excelled from 2012 to 2014. Gabbert is a very good athlete, which appeals to Kelly. Kaepernick, however, has shown he can take over games with his legs – just ask the Packers or any of Kaepernick’s college opponents – and is the better candidate in the read-option game. That must really excite Kelly, whose best offenses at Oregon featured quarterbacks who could both run and pass.

The truth is that over the first six practices, there’s been no obvious separation.

The real answer to, “Who’s winning the 49ers’ quarterback competition?” is “The 49ers’ defensive backs.”

They’ve gotten their hands on a lot of passes in the first week, especially in the padded sessions when they are able to jam and grab receivers and otherwise knock Kelly’s offense out of any rhythm.

The truth is that over the first six practices, there’s been no obvious separation between Gabbert and Kaepernick.

That’s to be expected. Defenses typically look better than offenses in early August. It also shouldn’t be a surprise on a team that has drafted 10 defensive backs since 2013 and only four wide receivers in that span, none before the fourth round.

Another reality: Whoever wins the competition to start in Week 1 won’t necessarily start in Week 17.

It’s hard to imagine the 49ers will go through the season without hitting a few rough patches, given the team’s schedule early on, the strength of the division and the overall youth of the roster. One of Kelly’s tasks is figuring out if the team’s quarterback of the future is on the roster. That may be a season-long endeavor.

In three years in Philadelphia, Kelly never had one quarterback start all 16 games. Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford all made starts over that span. Matt Barkley also threw 50 passes while Kelly coached the Eagles.

“I believe you need to have at least two quarterbacks in this league, just because of the physicality that goes on at that position,” Kelly said. “So you’d better have some depth because very rarely does one guy make it through an entire season.”

Getting into full pads for the first time during training camp, the San Francisco 49ers were asked to get to hittin' by coach Chip Kelly on Tuesday. Aug. 2, 2016. He said he liked what he saw.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at