Kemp Seems to Have Gone Where He’s Appreciated

Times Staff Writer

Jeff Kemp, backup quarterback, was saying here the other day that there’s a good reason the San Francisco 49ers, as coached by Bill Walsh, are a winning passing team.

“They expect the quarterback to throw a perfect pass every time,” he said. “Their standard for accuracy is unbelievably high.

“People think of Joe Montana as a quick, mobile quarterback, and as a leader, and he’s all that, of course. But the thing that makes him is his consistent accuracy.

“You have to be on this team to really appreciate Montana and the 49ers. Watching them from the inside is fascinating for a quarterback.”

Kemp has been with the 49ers since draft day last spring, when Walsh surprised the National Football League with two quarterback deals. He sent Matt Cavanaugh to the Philadelphia Eagles, who regard him as a starter, and brought in Kemp from the Rams, who were glad to be rid of him.


“As everybody knows, the Rams have a great running game,” Kemp said at Sierra College, the 49ers’ summer camp. “It’s more exciting, though, to be on a team that throws the ball.

“The two things that make the 49ers different (for a quarterback) are the specific, detailed coaching that you get from Walsh’s staff and the things they demand. They demand perfection. They’re disappointed if Montana makes the receiver stretch for a pass. They don’t want it high, low, behind the guy, or ahead of him.

“If you have the ability to put the ball in a perfect spot, as Joe does, the 49ers insist on it every time, even when you’re on the run, even when you’re in trouble.”

It is the view of San Francisco’s seasoned All-Pro guard, Randy Cross, that the 49ers got Kemp because one Montana may no longer be enough in the increasingly rough NFL.

“They wanted two Montanas,” Cross said, noting that 49er coaches have been watching Kemp mature for the last five years at Anaheim after a slow start in Division III football at Dartmouth.

“It’s better if your quarterbacks are similar types,” Cross said, speaking as a blocker who has to protect them. “Our backup last year (Cavanaugh) was a fine passer but not very mobile.

“Kemp moves around as well as Montana and may have a stronger arm for the long pass.

“He seems to be getting more like Joe every day. First crack last week, Jeff made some Montana plays,” Cross said of the 49ers’ exhibition game against the Raiders.

One of them was a fake scramble to the right, in the midst of which Kemp suddenly threw the ball back to his left, completing the pass to an open tight end for an easy touchdown.

“Jeff is the third productive player the Rams have sent us,” Cross said, identifying Wendell Tyler and Jack Reynolds as the others. “For this we say thanks.

“Montana can throw on the run in any direction, and now we’re getting the same out of Kemp.

“With two Montanas, you can bear down on the same set of plays (during practice) instead of working on two different game plans.”

Asked if he agreed with Cross’ assessment, Kemp said: “I’m as fast as Montana but not as smooth. Joe is incredibly fluid in the pocket, the smoothest athlete I’ve ever been around.”

Though he prizes smoothness, Walsh values accuracy more.

“Kemp is more accurate than Cavanaugh and more mobile,” the coach said.

The question is how the 49ers will make out with a new passer in their complex offense if they need him early in the season.

“We’ll do well,” Kemp predicted. “The Rams did well with me.”

There’s a difference of opinion on that. Among those dissenting probably would be Ram Coach John Robinson, who traded him.

But the numbers may support Kemp, who will return to Anaheim Stadium Monday night for an exhibition game against the Rams.

In 1984, his only year as a starter, the Rams were 9-4 in regular-season games Kemp started. And two of the losses were against the charging 49ers, who finished the regular season with a 15-1 record and went on to win the Super Bowl.

That same winter, the Rams were knocked out of the playoffs by the New York Giants, 16-13, and it wasn’t easy to get a line on Kemp because, in a conservative game plan, he was only asked to throw 15 passes, of which he completed 11.

But again there was controversy. Robinson said Kemp should have changed the play on one of the most famous goal-line calls of the decade--a handoff to Dwayne Crutchfield instead of Eric Dickerson, a play that failed.

Kemp’s comment: "(Robinson) asked for a timeout just before that call. There was no doubt in my mind that that was the play he wanted, and there’s no doubt now.”

That was delivered forcefully but soft-voiced. That’s the way Kemp is. He stands up for himself without making a nuisance of himself. A Jim McMahon he isn’t. He isn’t even a Joe Theismann.

He is better educated, however, than most quarterbacks. Since earning a BA at Dartmouth, Kemp has taken a master’s degree in business education at Pepperdine.

The president of his fan club is his father, Jack Kemp, the New York congressman, who flies in for most of his games.

Vice president is Jeff’s wife Stacy, who, with their son Kyle, stayed behind this summer in Orange County, where Jeff was born. Jack was playing quarterback for the Chargers at the time.

Another fan is David Shula, the new associate head coach of the Miami Dolphins, who was Kemp’s roommate at Dartmouth and caught his passes.

In their Ivy League days, some of those who knew them both called Kemp the better coaching prospect but wondered about his size as an NFL passer. At 201 pounds, he stands no more than 6 feet.

“If Jeff has a deficiency, it would be his height,” Walsh said.

Cross said: “Mobile quarterbacks don’t need to be that tall,” noting that the Rams had won with 5-10 Pat Haden and that Fran Tarkenton stood no more than 5-11.

Considering his quickness and approach to football, Kemp is probably tall enough.

Is he good enough?

It will surprise the Ram staff if he is.

It won’t surprise the 49ers.

Case continued.