For all the potential first round selections fans and pundits have wished for the 49ers, this might be the first article you’ll read begging John Lynch draft an offensive lineman.
Remember a few years ago when the 49ers went to the Super Bowl? They were solid up front. Staley, Boone, Goodwin, Iupati and Davis played a full 16 games together. Sure, that team had a stellar defense, but the offensive line was the North Star that could guide the team in times of trouble.
You know the story since 2012, and we could go full 12 rounds over a case of Anchor Steam about what the team’s been missing. But, boil it down: The offensive line hasn’t been solid since an ill-fated fade route in Super Bowl XLVII.
Enter Garett Bolles, an offensive tackle from the University of Utah. He’s a 6’6, 300-pounds who won first team All PAC-12 honors last season. His biggest downside is, as some of the quarterbacks in the draft, only playing 13 games at the Division I level.
If you’ve ever coached youth football, one skill you try to teach linemen is to play until the whistle. And, you quickly learn that kids play until they’ve ‘blocked their guy,’ whistle be damned. Bolles plays until the last high-pitched squeal of the Fox 40 whistle hits his eardrums. It’s the most incredible display of hustle I’ve seen in football in years.
Most everyone, especially offensive linemen, blocks ‘their guy’ and might move on to the second level before calling it a day.
Against Cal, Utah ran a simple run play to the left. The blocking scheme called for the tight end to chip the defensive tackle to Bolles and then go after linebacker. Bolles happily obliged and took the poor Cal Bear ten yards behind the play.
Watch some film. You’ll see Bolles continue run blocking 12 yards or more downfield, looking for some woeful defensive back to run through. Bolles doesn’t run block; Bolles mauls the opposition. He drives the opponent into the dirt or into the Gatorade table, whichever he feels like doing on that particular play. It’s a total displacement of the enemy.
He had two huge pulling blocks against UCLA which sprung Joe Williams for long touchdown runs. The left guard lead through 2-hole clearing the way, leaving Bolles to flatten the safety who made a weak attempt to play the run. The second touchdown run looked like the same play, but going through the 6-hole. This time, Bolles walled off the weak-side linebacker.
His kick slide is fantastic and often takes his defender completely out of the view of the camera. Bolles is using the rusher’s strength or uncontrolled speed as his weapon; he’ll take the edge defender on a long loop around the quarterback, or work the outside shoulder. If those techniques don’t work, that’s just fine. Bolles is even better if he can square up the defensive lineman or end. What Bolles gives you is an 11-on-10 advantage: He’s neutralizing whoever is up against him for the game.
But, Bolles needs a bit of work, starting with learning to block with his hand in the dirt. I’m all for allowing tackles to play what fits their body type or their individual style of play. Bolles plays up on nearly every play, often with a slight bend at the waist. I saw a few plays with him in a three-point stance. He was slow to get off the ball and played a bit too tall.
Maybe it’s a new technique, or maybe it was Utah’s offense, but Bolles had a strange shuffle-pull when moving down the line. Bolles seems like the type of lineman who’d be better at opening up his hip, running with his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage and turning into the point-of-attack at a full bore, rather than shuffling along.
There were a few plays that Bolles missed in pass protection. Against Washington, he completely blew a delayed stunt from the Sam and Mike backers. The Sam hit the B-gap right at the snap, and Bolles went with him – that’s right play. However, he only chipped the Sam, and then went outside to go after the Will – that’s the wrong play. He had no inside help, thus giving Sam and the delayed Mike backer a free shot at the quarterback.
Pro Football Focus correctly points out that Bolles played against some average talent in the PAC-12, and I’d agree with that. Often he’d look like a man playing against the high school freshman B-squad.
I can hear the ghost of Bobb McKittrick haunting the halls of 4949 Centennial Boulevard now:
Draft Bolles, Mr. Lynch! He’s the lineman I always wanted! Draft him or labor on it until your ultimate doom! It will be a ponderous chain!
If the 49ers decided to take heed of McKittrick’s celestial call, I suggest trading down late into round one to select him and then figure out a way to bring McKittrick back from the Great Beyond.
Film Watched (all 2016 games)