49ers' youth, athleticism impress Kelly

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49ers' youth, athleticism impress Kelly

Editor’s note: Matt Maiocco is in Indianapolis to cover the NFL Combine. Check back for his comprehensive coverage and catch his nightly updates on SportsNet Central.

INDIANAPOLIS –- Chip Kelly said he did not enter his film study of the 49ers’ roster with any preconceived thoughts about the team's level of talent.

But upon going through all 16 games of last season, he said he felt good about what he saw from some of the team’s young performers. At the end of the season, the 49ers had 27 players with two years or less of NFL experience on their 53-man roster.

“I was impressed with the overall athleticism and youth of the team,” Kelly said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “They had to quickly turn it around. Three years ago they’re in the Super Bowl with Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, (Ray) McDonald, Aldon (Smith) and you look at that defense, they had some outstanding players. And now they’re all gone.

“I think there’s some really good young talent on the team. I think the safety position is really talented. That probably jumped out at you the most on the defensive side. At a position in this league, where there’s not a lot of safeties, I think you got a lot of capable players at that position.”

[MAIOCCO: Baalke assesses 49ers' roster: 'Good, young nucleus']

Eric Reid was in his third season as a starter, while Jaquiski Tartt was forced into a starting role as a rookie after veteran Antoine Bethea sustained a season-ending injury. In addition, Jimmie Ward saw action at safety while also being the team’s nickel back.

On offense, Kelly said he was impressed from what he saw from the running backs – even after Carlos Hyde was forced out of the lineup with a stress fracture in his foot.

“When I turned the tape on, I was really impressed,” Kelly said. “Carlos was out, but some of those other guys they were impressive down the stretch, and guys they got of the street. There’s some talent at the running back spot.”

Kelly said he would like for the 49ers to re-sign scheduled free agent Shaun Draughn, whom the 49ers signed off the street after injuries to Hyde and Reggie Bush. Draughn was the 49ers’ second-leading rusher behind Hyde’s 470 yards with 263 yards on 76 attempts. Draughn also caught 25 passes for 175 yards.

DuJuan Harris was added late in the season and ended up with 140 yards rushing on 27 attempts. Kelly also mentioned his excitement to see what Jarryd Hayne is capable of doing in his second year of American football.

But, clearly, Hyde is headliner of the 49ers’ run game.

“I’m really excited to get working with Carlos” Kelly said. “He had an unbelievable pro-day workout. I was at his workout at Ohio State. I was really, really impressed with him there. And, obviously, I know (Ohio State coach) Urban (Meyer) really well. He’s a really good friend of mine. I know how highly Urban thinks of him. Big, physical back that’s a combination of size and speed. He should be fun to work with.”

[RELATED: Hyde working out with Gore in offseason]

Kelly also said he believes the 49ers’ group of tight ends is more than capable with Vance McDonald, Blake Bell and Garrett Celek, whom the 49ers signed to an extension this week.

Wide receiver Bruce Ellington was not much of a factor last season in his second NFL year. He caught just 13 passes for 153 yards. He also averaged just 7.2 yards on 19 punt returns, but Kelly appears intrigued with the possibility of Ellington taking on a larger role on his team.

“When you look at just the short time that I’ve seen just film of him you’re like ‘Wow.’ That kid can do some interesting things,” Kelly said. “And it’s our job to figure out how we can use that to benefit us to help us win games.”

The 49ers have plenty of questions on the offensive line, but one player who caught his eye was 6-foot-8, 355-pound right tackle Trent Brown, who started the final two games of the season.

“He’s got great physical skills,” Kelly said. “He’s got great balance. He’s got great flexibility. You see him and you’re like ‘Oh my God. That guy’s gigantic.’ ”

Perhaps the player Kelly knows best was their first-round draft pick of a year ago. Kelly recruited defensive lineman Arik Armstead to Oregon, and he said the progress his former player made during his rookie season was noticeable.

“I think you saw him grow as the season went along, but I was really impressed with him,” Kelly said. “I obviously know Arik very well from recruiting him and coaching him. I think he’s still coming and I think he’s got a huge upside. I was really impressed just to see his progress in his first year from Week 1 to Week 17.”

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

SANTA CLARA – Despite recording seven interceptions in his first two seasons and being named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Eric Reid said he believes he is now in a role that best fits his skillset.

Whereas in the past, the 49ers’ safety positions were considered interchangeable, there is a clear delineation this season under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

“Even dating back to college, this is the first time there’s a distinct strong (safety) and a distinct free (safety),” Reid said. “I’ve been used to the interchangeability type of role.

“(In) some situations, certain calls where there’s a motion, we might flip. There are a couple situations where I might be in the post in the free-safety role, but it’s not nearly as much as it has been in the past.”

Reid, who is listed at 6 foot 1, 213 pounds, said he is excited to be stationed closer to the line of scrimmage for run support while free safety Jimmie Ward patrols the deep middle of the field.

The 49ers offseason program concluded Wednesday, and Reid found himself in the middle of the action with an interception on a short Brian Hoyer pass over the middle. While he will still be counted upon for coverage, his biggest impact could come to assist a run defense that last season ranked among the worst in NFL history.

“I love it, being around the ball more,” Reid said. “I anticipate making more tackles, hopefully making more plays. I feel like I was made for this position with my body type, being a bigger safety. I’m excited about this year.

“I feel like I’m using what God has blessed me with, more, which is my size and being in the box in the run game. In the past, I felt like I could do more. And being in the post, I can’t use my size as much when it comes to the run game.”

After producing seven interceptions in his first two seasons, Reid recorded just one interception in 26 games over the past two seasons.

As a first-round pick in 2013, the 49ers picked up the fifth-year option this season for $5.676 million. He is scheduled for unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of the season. Reid said the 49ers have not spoken to his representation about a long-term extension. That will come, he believes, if he lives up to his end of the bargain in his new, streamlined role.

“I look at it from a business standpoint,” Reid said. “I majored in business. They have me under contract. They don’t have any reason to talk to right now. I imagine if I play well in the first half of the season, they’ll reach out to me. Maybe they’ll reach out to me before training camp, I don’t know. It’s whatever route they decide to take. It’s a business. I’ll treat it as a business. I have a job to do, so I’ll do it.”

 

Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

SANTA CLARA – Kyle Shanahan always wanted to coach football with his father. But, first, he knew he had to prove himself without any boost from his well-known dad.

Once the son established himself as one of the NFL’s respected offensive minds, the Shanahans teamed up for four up-but-mostly-down seasons with Washington.

Mike, the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, hired his son to serve as his top offensive assistant in 2010.

“I thought we saw football similar, but we quickly realized after a few weeks that we saw it differently,” Kyle Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area in February. “We grew together. He gave me a lot of leeway while I was there. It was fun to try a bunch of different things, having to even incorporate the zone read when we got Robert (Griffin).

“We did our deal in Washington, and I wouldn’t take that back for the world, but that was pretty much the end of it.”

Kyle Shanahan broke into the coaching ranks under Karl Dorrell at UCLA. He moved onto the NFL to work with Jon Gruden on the staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Gary Kubiak with the Houston Texans. But nothing prepared him for the scrutiny he would face as offensive coordinator under his father.

Kyle Shanahan adjusted the Washington offense to take advantage of Griffin’s skills as a dual-threat quarterback as a rookie 2012. The club qualified for the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

But things blew up the following season as the Mike Shanahan-Griffin relationship soured. Shanahan and eight assistant coaches, including Kyle, were fired the morning after Washington’s 3-13 season concluded.

Mike Shanahan has remained out of coaching, though he was a finalist for the 49ers’ head-coaching job after the 2015 season. The 49ers hired Chip Kelly.

Kyle Shanahan rebuilt his career with one season as offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns and two successful seasons with the Atlanta Falcons to enable him to become CEO Jed York’s choice to replace Kelly.

There is no official role for Mike Shanahan, 64, on his son’s staff with the 49ers. But the father has attended several of the team’s practices this offseason, including both days of the 49ers’ mandatory minicamp this week. Mike has been issued his own iPad that gives him access to the 49ers playbook and coach's film. He will likely visit for an extended stay during training camp. But Kyle said he believes his dad will mostly remain home -- only a phone call away -- during the regular season.

“He’s enjoying life right now,” said Kyle, 37. “He’s got a pretty good deal in Denver, where he lives. He can help me out in other ways anyways without having to be here every day.”

Mike Shanahan does not need to be in the building every day to counsel and have influence on his son as he tries to navigate his first season as the head coach while also maintaining the responsibilities of running the team’s offense.

“You’re going 1,000 miles an hour,” Kyle Shanahan said. “Sometimes to see everything you’ve got to really slow things down and take your time to look at stuff and you don’t always have that time as a head coach.

“It’s nice when someone you know who thinks similar to you has a similar background and he just sits in a room all day and watches stuff. He doesn’t have any other responsibilities. He can see some things that I’m not always seeing and just to bring things to light that maybe I missed or other people have missed.”

Mike Shanahan was a successful NFL offensive coordinator for seven seasons. He won a Super Bowl on George Seifert’s staff with the 49ers in January 1995. His dad believes his time around the 49ers has a lasting impact.

“When I was with San Francisco, Kyle was at the 49ers training camps in Rocklin,” Mike Shanahan told Fangirl Sports Network. “He stayed with me at camp and we talked about football every night.

“He had the opportunity to experience an organization that had won four Super Bowls in nine years. He also had the opportunity to be around some great people and leaders. He still tells stories and talks about people like Steve Young, Joe Montana, Harris Barton, Tom Rathman, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Deion Sanders, and many others. What a great experience to see how these men handled themselves on and off the field.”

The Denver Broncos hired him to become head coach shortly after the 49ers’ 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. Shanahan went on to win two Super Bowls in his 14 seasons with the Broncos.

Kyle Shanahan was a wide receiver at Duke before finishing college at Texas, where he caught 14 passes for 127 yards in two seasons. He figured he would have a career in football and it would not be as a player.

“I’ve wanted to coach my whole life,” Kyle Shanahan said. “This is all I’ve known, just growing up around football. It’s almost all I’ve been into, too. Since I was little, it’s distracted me from everything I’ve done, especially school. I always tried to tell my mom, ‘Just be patient, it’ll play out for us in the long run.’ Fortunately, it did.

“Once I realized my genes were a little bit better as a coach than as a player, I pretty much locked into that – and that was about halfway through college. I haven’t looked back.”

During his short time with the 49ers, players on both sides of the ball have expressed amazement at how knowledgeable Kyle Shanahan is about the game of football. His dad told Fangirl Sports Network to succeed as a head coach he must always be dedicated to stuyding, learning and teaching the sport.

“He loves the game and knows it inside and out,” Mike Shanahan said. “My advice to him is to never lose the drive to study the game as he’s done over the last 13 years. To stay in the NFL as a head coach and have success for any length of time, you must never lose your drive to teach and stay abreast of what the top teams are doing every year: offense, defense, special teams. You must be able to coach all positions to really understand the whole game.”

Former 49ers president Carmen Policy said he remembers young Kyle serving as a ball boy during 49ers training camp in the early 1990s. Policy, who remains close to Mike Shanahan, has followed Kyle’s rise in the coaching ranks while playfully questioning the sanity of the family business.

Said Policy: “I used to tease Mike, ‘What kind of father are you to let your kid go into coaching?’ I said, ‘You should be charged with dereliction of parental duty.’ And he’d laugh and say, ‘Yeah, I tried talking to him and then my wife tried talking to him, but that’s his passion, and that’s what he wants to do, so I’m not going to dissuade him from it.’

“And, then, look at what happened. Here he is. He’s the head coach of the 49ers, and that’s just incredible.”