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 looked at the Cleveland Browns of 2014, and wanted that defensive coordinator to run that side of the ball with the 49ers.
Jim O’Neil might not have been Kelly’s first choice as 49ers defensive coordinator, but he was hired based in large part on what the Browns did before losing several key players off that defense in 2015.
“In his first year in Cleveland, they did an outstanding job,” Kelly said of O’Neil. “They the lowest passer rating (74.1). I think they were ninth in scoring defense (21.1 points per game). They were one of the top teams in takeaways. Then, you go to last year. That’s why you have to look at the whole story.”
[REWIND: What Chip Kelly wants from offensive, defensive coaches]
Kelly pointed out that the Browns lost several key members of their defense, including linemen Ahtyba Rubin and Jabaal Sheard, as well as cornerback Buster Skrine. Additionally, top cornerback Joe Haden appeared in only five games due to injuries.
“I think the job they did the first year in Cleveland without a great offense,” Kelly said. “I think he did an outstanding job with that team.”
The Browns’ defense, which ranked 10th in the NFL in 2014, tumbled to 27th in the league last year. Coach Mike Pettine was out as head coach, and Hue Jackson did not retain O’Neil on his staff.
O'Neil was tabbed as 49ers' defensive coordinator after Houston Texans assistant Mike Vrabel turned down Kelly's offer. O'Neil was selected over 49ers assistant Jason Tarver, who remains on the staff as outside linebackers coach.
While O’Neil was have autonomy to run the 49ers’ defense, Kelly will be in charge of the team’s offense. He brought quarterbacks coach Ryan Day and receivers coach Bob Bicknell with him from the Philadelphia Eagles. But the remainder of his offensive staff is comprised of individuals from other organizations.
[MAIOCCO: Eric Rogers' long road leads to opportunity with 49ers]
“Really, on the offensive side of the ball, I wanted different viewpoints,” Kelly said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I know what we know, but you always got to continue to grow and learn and the more diverse you can get from different backgrounds and put together what’s going to be the 49ers’ offense.
“Because the 49ers’ offense isn’t going to be what we did in Philadelphia because obviously the players are different. You got to be able to adapt to the players we have on our roster.”
Curtis Modkins was hired for the title of offensive coordinator. He is expected to bring different elements of the running game to Kelly’s scheme. Modkins spent three seasons as Detroit Lions run game coordinator He worked three seasons as Buffalo Bills’ offensive coordinator prior to that. Modkins and Bicknell worked together with the Bills.
“He’s really sharp,” Kelly said. “He comes from Chan Gailey’s system. And I’ve always been a big fan of what Chan does offensively.”
Another key hire was offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, who worked the previous 12 seasons on Tom Coughlin’s staff with the New York Giants.
“I was excited to get ‘Flats’ from the Giants,” Kelly said. “He ran two distinctly different systems. They were in Kevin Gilbride’s system when they went to the Super Bowl and he spent the past two years with Ben McAdoo running the Green Bay system. He brings a lot to the table.”