Grant Cohn: Chip Kelly’s 49ers worries are many, and they are large

In the aftermath of Friday's exhibition loss to the Packers, the new coach looked like he had just seen the Angel of Death.|

Chip Kelly looked like a man who wasn't going to sleep that night.

He came to the interview room after the 49ers' preseason loss to the Packers and fiddled with the microphone on the podium, face white as a ghost. He looked like he had just seen the Angel of Death.

'Questions?' he muttered.

Then he answered questions vaguely. Said things like, 'We've got to watch the film,' coach-speak for: 'I have no idea what to say.'

I don't know how Kelly thinks. But If I had to guess what was bothering him during that postgame press conference, these would be the top-10 things.

Worry No. 1. The offense. Kelly's baby. It was awful Friday night. The third preseason game is a dress rehearsal for the regular season and his offense forgot its lines and costumes. The starters played the entire first half and scored just seven points. They also averaged 3 yards per pass attempt and possessed the ball only eight minutes.

The previous two preseason games when opponents did not game plan, Kelly's offense performed well. Then the Packers prepared for the Niners offense and shut it down. Kelly has to worry if the league really has caught onto his scheme. If everything people say is wrong with it really is wrong with it. If his offense hurts his defense by making it play too much. If his offense is vanilla and easy to stop if you prepare for the fast pace.

Worry No. 2. Running back Carlos Hyde. Kelly's best skill player on offense. The go-to guy. The centerpiece of Kelly's running game who is averaging 5.7 yards per carry in the preseason. He suffered a concussion late in the second quarter against the Packers and left the game. Who knows when he'll return?

This likely is the third time in three seasons Hyde will miss time because of an injury. Seems clear he can't stay healthy. How will Kelly's offense perform without him?

Worry No. 3. Running back Shaun Draughn. One of the go-to guys on third down and Hyde's primary backup. Took a shot to his ribs during the first preseason game and hasn't played since. Kelly already is down two running backs and the season hasn't even started. If Draughn and Hyde don't recover by Week 1, the starter would be Mike Davis or DuJuan Harris, each of whom has fumbled twice in three preseason games.

Worry No. 4. Slot receiver/kickoff and punt returner Bruce Ellington. Also a go-to guy on third down. He seemed to tweak his left hamstring on his first punt return Friday night, played through it, then pulled the hamstring on his final punt return and left the game.

Like Hyde, Ellington can't stay healthy. Kelly can't count on either of them.

Worry No. 5. Wide receiver Torrey Smith. The highest-paid wide receiver on the team and the only receiver who has caught 60 passes and gained 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Through three preseason games in Kelly's offense he has caught exactly zero passes. Kelly can't get him the ball. Kelly is supposed to be an offensive genius whose scheme is supposed to get players open. Why can't he get Torrey Smith open? Other coaches could.

Worry No. 6. Tight end Bruce Miller. Also has zero catches during the preseason. Friday night he dropped a long pass he should have caught. He's a bad tight end. And he shouldn't be playing that position. Kelly should have left him at his old spot.

Miller is a fullback, the best one in the NFL. He's playing tight end because Kelly is stubborn and refuses to use a fullback even if he's the best one in the NFL. Not fair to Miller. Kelly won't adapt his scheme to the talents of an excellent player.


Worry No. 7. Defensive end Quinton Dial. The 49ers' best run-stopper on the defensive line. Injured his knee Friday night.

Worry No. 8. Defensive end Arik Armstead. The second-year player has missed the entire preseason and most of training camp with a shoulder injury. If he and Dial miss Week 1, how will the Niners stop Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley?

Worry No. 9. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Has completed just 54.5 percent of his passes during three preseason starts, and has not completed a pass that traveled more than 15 yards in the air. A scattershot dink-and-dunker. Friday night he overthrew a wide open Quinton Patton deep down the middle of the field. If Gabbert can't hit the long throws, NFL defenses will take away the short stuff pretty quickly.

Worry No. 10. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Somehow even worse than Gabbert. Rusty after not playing football for nine months. Looked like he didn't belong on the field Friday night.

And now he's a social activist who refuses to stand during the national anthem. Is he trying to get the 49ers to release him? Will Kelly's backup quarterback end up being Christian Ponder?

That thought alone could keep a person up at night. Kelly has a lot to think about.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the 'Inside the 49ers' blog for The Press Democrat's website. You can reach him at

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