NEW ORLEANS - Most NFL coaches know Chip Kelly only by reputation. The only thing they know about his offense is what they've seen on TV or scouting tapes.
Not so for 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Greg Roman. They both got an up-close-and-personal look at Kelly's high-octane, up-tempo offense when they were on Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford.
Fangio was the Cardinal defensive coordinator in 2010 when Kelly's Oregon Ducks pasted Stanford, 52-31.
Roman was on that staff, as well as the one a year earlier when the Ducks put up 42 points in a nine-point Stanford win.
"I've coached in high school, college and the NFL," said Roman, a Ventnor, N.J., native. "It's different. The NFL is different.
"You've got to be able to hang your hat on more than one thing. If you can do one thing well, if people want to stop it, they probably can stop it. With the chalk [strategy], the numbers. Because everybody in this league is good.
"I would anticipate Chip making all of the adjustments he's going to need to make, though. He's a smart guy. And I would anticipate him recognizing what he needs to do to be successful and adjust accordingly."
Kelly has said it's not etched in stone that the offense you saw him run at Oregon is the same one he will run with the Eagles. He said he'll tailor his offense around his personnel rather than the other way around.
We'll see. Kelly isn't the first coach to say that. Most of them don't mean it. Most of them believe in their system a lot more than they do the guys in the locker room.
While Kelly kinda, sorta denies it, many people believe that one of the things that convinced him to make the jump to the pros now is the success this season of the read option, which has been used by Roman's 49ers, the Redskins with Robert Griffin III and the Panthers with Cam Newton.
The Niners' second-year quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, has become the new Ultimate Weapon. He ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns in the divisional-round win over the Packers. Just the threat of his running opened the door for running backs Frank Gore and former Kelly pupil LaMichael James to combine for 124 yards and three touchdowns in the Niners' 28-24 win over the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.
"Chip has seen parts of his type of offense being integrated into the NFL this year, including by us," said Fangio, who grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, attended East Stroudsburg University and spent 1984 and '85 as an assistant with the USFL's Philadelphia Stars. "I think that gave him some confidence that it could work in the NFL. And it can.
"To me, it comes back to the personnel you have, and how much can you do it? You've got to be able to throw out of it for it to be totally effective. Chip knows what he's doing with that offense. I'm sure he'll have success."
Aside from the fact that they, like Kelly, use the read option, there aren't many other similarities in the offense the Niners run and the one Kelly ran at Oregon.
The Niners are about power, while Kelly's Ducks were about speed. The Niners use a fullback and two-tight end sets. They use three- and four-wide receiver sets less than most of the teams in the league. Kelly likes to spread defenses out.
"The biggest difference [for Kelly] will be with the hashmarks where they are in the NFL, the ball is always in the middle of the field," said Niners quarterbacks coach Geep Cryst. "Oregon did such a great job on offense of circling the defense. They had the speed to outflank people. And the threat of that opened up some inside seams.
"[Kelly's] a bright mind. He's a really bright mind. He's got a system. It's not just the schemes. It's how he gets his teams ready to play. What he does in his Thursday practice. What he does in his Friday practice. They did some great things, and I'm sure he's excited to see what he can do with it at this level."
The big question is what Kelly and the Eagles will do at quarterback. Nick Foles showed promise in his six rookie starts last season. But he doesn't fit the mold of the quarterbacks Kelly had at Oregon. He is a pocket passer with limited mobility who really isn't suited to run a read-option offense.
Foles certainly could run an up-tempo offense like Tom Brady did this season in New England. You don't need mobility to do that. But it's tough to run the read option if the quarterback isn't a threat to run.
"We did some read option last year with Alex [Smith]," Cryst said. "He doesn't have the explosiveness as a runner that Colin has, but he still was a pretty good runner."
Fangio said it would be difficult for Kelly to run the read option without a mobile quarterback.
"The quarterback needs to be some sort of threat as a runner," he said. "The X's-and-O's advantage is still there [without a mobile quarterback].
"But the quarterback needs to make you pay like you see RGIII and Colin and Cam Newton do. When they get open, they make you pay with big chunks [of yardage] because of their speed. I think the guy has to have some speed."
Because the Niners got Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 draft, because the Seahawks gobbled up Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 draft, some think it's easier to find a quarterback capable of running the read option outside of the first round than it is a pocket passer.
For every Kaepernick and Wilson, there are a dozen Pat Whites. Drafted in the second round by the Dolphins a few years back, presumably to be a Wildcat quarterback, White turned out to be a bust.
"They decided, 'Hey, we're going to draft this guy and he's going to fit into the Wildcat mold,' " Cryst said. "You had [Tyler] Thigpen from Coastal Carolina, who the Chiefs brought on board.
"There are people out there who were drafted with the hope that they could provide a certain element. All I know is I'm happy we have Kaepernick."
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