San Francisco 49ers: Chip Kelly History Beginning To Repeat Itself?

January 20, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Chip Kelly addresses the media in a press conference after being introduced as the new head coach for the San Francisco 49ers at Levi
January 20, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Chip Kelly addresses the media in a press conference after being introduced as the new head coach for the San Francisco 49ers at Levi /

San Francisco 49ers HC Chip Kelly arrived with a reputation for his fast paced attack, but just as he did in Philadelphia, there is a danger of him burning the team out too quickly.

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Give San Francisco 49ers HC Chip Kelly credit – he’s consistent. When he arrived in Philadelphia in 2013, he caught the league – and his players – a bit by surprise with his ultra-fast paced system. Rigorous and grueling practice sessions started in the offseason and carried through the year. And while the vibes were good in that first season, by year three, his players were openly talking about being worn out by the end of the season. And given the very fast start to San Francisco’s offseason program, we could be seeing history repeat itself once again.

Now, before anybody gets up on their high horses to defend Kelly’s methods, yes, pro football players are paid for their physical exertions. That’s not the point. The point is that the pace of Kelly’s rigorous pacing to offseason work and practices, while exciting and innovative at the start, can break players down. The body can only take so much – even elite athletes like NFL players.

While Kelly has never been synonymous with the word “defense,” it is worth noting that given the fast paced, quick hitting nature of offense, and the fact that the defense is then forced to spend more time on the field, Philadelphia’s defense declined in each of Kelly’s three seasons there.

In his first season at the helm, Kelly’s defense ranked twenty-seventh overall in yards allowed. In his second season, they ranked twenty-eighth. And in his swan song in Philadelphia, the team defense was ranked thirtieth in the thirty-two team league.

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And to hear some of his players tell it, part of the reason is because Kelly worked them so hard that they had nothing left to give by the latter stages of the season.

Former Eagles cornerback Cary Williams was one of the more outspoken when it came to Kelly’s grueling methods – though, he was by far, not the only one.

"“I’m just going to be honest with you. It’s hard to go out there and fight for 60 minutes when you’re fighting throughout the week to make it through one practice. I’m not the only one. I’m just the only one that’s man enough to stand up here and talk to y’all. It’s obviously, in my opinion, an issue in our starts. When you don’t have legs, period, it shows up in games, period. Throughout the game, period.”"

Kelly obviously disagreed with Williams’ remarks at the time, saying his team’s conditioning made them the “freshest team in the fourth quarter.”

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But given the fact that Kelly is neither running through the same rigorous practice sessions, and is definitely not on the field on game days, his assessment might not paint the most accurate picture of what’s going on with his players.

As for what’s happening with the 49ers right now, the players are all saying and doing the right things. There’s an excitement in the air and not surprisingly, some of San Francisco’s younger players are saying the exact same things Kelly’s younger players in Philadelphia said early on.

Of the pace Kelly is setting during the offseason, 49ers safety Eric Reid recently said, “Name a team that’s going to go that fast. So the game should be slow motion for us when the season comes. So I like it. It’s a challenge. I’m always up for a challenge, and I think it’ll make us better in the long run.”

It’s also worth noting that Reid is just 24 years old.

But not everybody on San Francisco’s roster is quite that young and eventually, the constant beating a body takes over the course of a season – when combined with age, and high tempo practices – can have a detrimental effect on the body.

Said the then-30 year old Williams:

"“Right now, the way we’re doing it is not conducive to success. We play several games in practice. It’s taxing on your body. I’m 30 years old now. I don’t know where I’m going to find that energy. We’ve been able to fight through that as a team, but some modifications need to be made.”"

With several notable veterans in key spots on the roster like Ahmad Brooks, Joe Staley, Antoine Bethea, and Glenn Dorsey, among others, the impact of Kelly’s relentless physical pushing is something to keep an eye on.

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Kelly and his players are in the honeymoon phase at the moment. But if history is any guide, it’s not going to last. One can only hope that Kelly heeds the words of his former players and “modify” the way he – and his players – work, lest he burn them out too soon.