Damion Square is accustomed to feeling the heat on the back of his neck.
He comes from Alabama, a program run by some guy named Nick Saban, whose roots are deeply planted on the defensive side of the ball. That is his domain. With Chip Kelly, it’s the complete opposite.
“The intensity is different because you’ve got the head guy on your field at all times,” said the rookie. “It doesn’t mean I practice in any different way but it’s a whole other pressure when you have your head coach standing over your shoulder every play. Coach Kelly, he makes a trip over there every once in a while to see if guys are buying in.”
That matches up with what we have seen at practice. If you’re looking for Kelly, it’s a safe bet that you’ll find him with the offense. (Unless it’s a special teams period, in which case he stands with the returners.) He may travel over to the defensive side from time-to-time but it’s obvious where most of his attention goes during practice sessions.
The pattern appears to hold true for meetings as well. Where Kelly is in attendance for every special teams meeting, according to Dave Fipp, the impression that we got from defensive players is that he will pop into their positional meetings on occasion.
“It’s pretty much like, ‘I hired these guys to do stuff that I’m not strong at.’ So that’s what he’s doing: letting them coach and do what they do because he has trust in them,” said Brandon Graham. “That’s what any coach should do: hire somebody to do their job.”
Kelly has made it known that he will not micromanage Billy Davis and his defense, particularly on game day. And we have seen signs of that laissez faire approach through his interaction with reporters. He indicated prior to the preseason opener against the Patriots, for instance, that Brandon Boykin would start outside. Instead, Curtis Marsh got the call.
“I was wrong,” was Kelly’s reply afterwards.
Asked on Tuesday who would start at safety this Thursday against the Jets, Kelly responded: “That’s a good question. I haven’t ‑‑ we haven’t sat down and finalized that.”
For answers about the day-to-day workings on defense, it’s best to ask Davis directly.
But it would be a mistake to suggest that Kelly isn’t plugged into that side of the operation.
“I meet with Billy. I watch all the practice tape,” he said. “I’m more involved in the offensive side of the ball from a practice standpoint with those guys, but I watch all the tape from a film standpoint and meet with the staff and talk to those guys constantly on a day‑to‑day basis.”
Are you involved with the game-planning?
“Yeah, we meet and go over what their game plan is and how they are going to approach things, pick each other’s brains.”
Big picture, the defense is being built largely in Kelly’s vision. It is no coincidence that Davis has a background in traditional and hybrid 3-4 defenses. Kelly believes his defensive coordinator can both transition this team to a two-gap 3-4 and find a scheme solution for the here-and-now while the unit is under construction.
Casey Matthews sees a lot of similarities between the defense he is in now and the one he played in at Oregon.
“It’s pretty much the same. A lot of the same terminology,” he said. “In OTAs when we first started to do the meetings it started to come back pretty quick. It’s a little different. You can tell with Chip and Coach Azz [assistant head coach/defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro] at Oregon, they definitely tuned it up the couple years that I was gone.”
In other words, this defense has Kelly’s fingerprints all over it. He just doesn’t hold it in a permanent grip.
“Chip and I meet at least once a day. He’s got a great understanding of what we’re doing defensively,” said Davis. ”We spent a lot of time in the offseason talking about building and what structure he likes and what structure I like. At the end of the day, what Chip wants, I will give him. We talk often. He’s very easy to work with and understand. A very clear communicator. You know exactly where he stands and what he wants and you give it to him. So far, the real tests haven’t come yet. The real games, when they start coming, we’ll collectively solve problems.”
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