San Francisco 49ers: Talking Offense in 2016
By Rob Lowder
After a 2015 that landed the 49ers offense near the bottom of every possible statistic, San Francisco will enter into 2016 season under Chip Kelly with a high-powered approach that will differ greatly from years past.
Chip Kelly was regarded as an offensive genius in Oregon and upon making his professional football debut in Philadelphia, transformed what was a 4-12 Eagles team in 2012, into two consecutive 10-win seasons.
While his fast-paced head coaching success was obvious, it was marred by his attempts to also play the role of general manager, earning him an unpopular reputation of being incapable of relating to his own players.
Kelly now finds himself starting anew as the head coach (and only the head coach) of a San Francisco 49ers team not far from what he inherited in Philadelphia.
What can we expect from Kelly and the 49ers new, up-tempo offense?
Quality Quarterback Play
Kelly may not be known as a “quarterback whisperer” in the traditional sense, in which his coaching style, positional knowledge and mentorship can nurture QB growth, but he does bring with him an offensive scheme that has proven to be advantageous for signal-callers.
In 2013, his closest attempt at a full season under Kelly, former Eagles quarterback Nick Foles threw for almost 3,000 yards, 27 touchdowns along with a mere two interceptions. In a November showdown against the Oakland Raiders, Foles threw for seven touchdowns to zero interceptions, tying the record for single-game passing touchdowns.
After being traded to the then St. Louis Rams, Foles managed just over 2000 yards, seven touchdowns and ten interceptions in 11 games.
A far cry from his perceived ability under Kelly.
While the 49ers quarterback situation is far from settled — with Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert competing for the starting role — it would seem whoever wins the competition will be in store for a positive season under Kelly’s offense, especially when in contrast with last year’s “offense.”
Wide Receiver Relevance
Barring a massive influx of veteran free-agent wide receiver signings, the 49ers receiving corps in 2016 will consistent of mostly unproven and inexperienced talent. The second, third and fourth WR roles are all up for grabs and it would seem that no matter who wins these spots, we will see young players thrown into the spotlight.
For better or worse, players such as Bruce Ellington and Quinton Patton, who have been with the team for multiple seasons, will have the opportunity to emerge now that veterans like Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree have gone elsewhere.
Younger receivers like DeAndre Smelter, Eric Rogers, DeAndre White, Dres Anderson and Aaron Burbridge will be also be competing for impact roles in a Chip Kelly offense that consistently utilizes 3-4 receivers in a spread offense.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee detailed the emergence of the 49ers younger pass-catching talent:
"A number of players, from CFL newcomer Eric Rogers to second-year player DiAndre Cambell, flashed at different times during the spring drills. Dres Anderson was perhaps the most prominent, especially in the recent minicamp."
Come 2016, the 49ers new receiving corps will find relevance. Whether that is good or bad is yet to be seen.
Competent Offensive Line
If you had to pick one negative aspect of the 2015 season and label it as the “worst,” and you would certainly have an array of options, you would still be hard pressed not to choose the offensive line.
They were two spots away from allowing the most sacks in the NFL.
The bar is set incredibly low, so to say the 2016 offensive line will be an upgrade is not saying much. It may not even be a compliment.
However, given the free-agent signing of Zane Beadles, along with first-round selection Joshua Garnett — whom both project to occupy the left and right guard spots respectively — the 49ers offensive line should look far more competent in the upcoming season than it did in the last.
While Beadles struggled in Jacksonville, his time at Denver within a very similar zone-blocking scheme producing outstanding results. The 49ers are hoping a return to that scheme will do the same.
Add in the competition presented by fifth-round picks John Theus and Fahn Cooper, as well as incumbent starters Trenton Brown, Erik Pears and Andrew Tiller, and the 49ers coaching staff should be able to piece together an offensive line capable of outproducing last year’s group.
By a lot.
A common misconception, mostly due to the spread offense’s use of multiple WRs, is that Kelly passes the ball often. He does not.
In the aforementioned 2013 season in which Nick Foles saw huge success, the Eagles only passed the ball 53 percent of the time — good enough for 27th place and only four spots ahead of the 49ers.
Kelly’s uptempo offense prefers to run the football, which is good news for projected starter Carlos Hyde, whom is still looking to put together a full season without injury.
2015 free agent acquisitions Shaun Draughn and DuJuan Harris have established themselves as serviceable backups, while sophomore Mike Davis and rookie Kelvin Taylor will attempt to carve out a change-of-pace role.
Similar to the wide receiving corps, the running back position will host plenty of competition as Chip Kelly prefers a stable of RBs to keep his running game fresh in the midst of his up-tempo offense.
Having spent time at various defensive coaching roles, Kelly’s offense was born out of what he knew frustrated him on the opposite side of the ball. 49ers.com reporter Joe Fann elaborates on his interview with Kelly.
“When I made the move over (to offense),” Kelly began explaining in a recent sit-down interview with 49ers.com, “I would always think back to those days on defense: You didn’t like unbalance, you didn’t like when people went fast, you didn’t like when they put big edges and extra tight ends in the game, you didn’t like if they were a big team and had the ability to play four wide receivers.”
Undoubtedly, Chip Kelly’s offense will continue to evolve with the 49ers as it did from Oregon to Philadelphia.
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In order to find continued success within the NFL you must adapt to others as others attempt to adapt to you.
While the team is still in the midst of a multi-season rebuild, there should be some encouragement from the idea that 49ers now have an innovative, offensive-minded head coach. Something the team has not been able to say in quite some time.
And frankly, anything is going to seem like a sizable upgrade after last season.
Next: Youth Movement Will Dominate 49ers 2016 Roster
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.