On my first day of second grade, our teacher passed out empty composition notebooks and informed the class we’d be keeping a year-long journal. Our first entry was to list a goal for the day.
I reached for the sharp graphite pencil and thought, “I don’t think I picked up a pencil all summer."
I scratched out my goal on the first day of school with even worse penmanship than usual. I still remember my goal – to do well in reading – and the awkward feeling I had after going three months without writing.
Coming back into a professional football season may not be like the first day of second grade, but it indeed takes a moment for players to get reacclimated to the speed and intensity of the game. There are bound to be confused players, wrong routes, missed blocks, and blown coverages.
Coaches don’t watch tape of the opponent and are often testing plays and schemes out to see what happens against a different opponent.
Therefore, it’s no surprise the San Francisco 49ers played a sloppy opening preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.
I don’t want to jump to conclusions and provide readers with bombastic statements about a player or a problem with the offense. However, I do feel it’s healthy to have concerns and ask questions.
There's Time to Improve the Offensive Line's Communication
The starting offensive line for the 49ers played one series together. It’s impossible to draw any conclusions on how wonderfully or how poorly they played.
The positive: The five starters did not allow a sack, and I believe they allowed only one hit on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo upright. In fact, the men who played offensive line last Thursday did not allow a sack all evening.
The super positive: Rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey had his hands full during the first series with Cowboys’ defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, but McGlinchey made it through with only a few errors. He and right guard Mike Person picked up a stunt during the first series, but McGlinchey also missed a block on a 12-yard pass to wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.
The not-so-positive: The run blocking from the offensive linemen was atrocious. They were not helped by the 49er tight ends, who provided almost no help on running plays.
This week, the offensive line needs to continue to build trust in one another and work on relaying protections up and down the line. Unless the 49ers seek out a better right guard, the five men up front will need impeccable communication to make up for the lack of talent at the interior.
Larger Concern: No Offensive Line Depth
It’s no shock to see a severe drop in talent once the first team leaves the field. The men playing the bulk of a Week 1 preseason game are either fighting for a roster spot or trying to get some good plays on celluloid.
Friends, the 49ers have almost no depth at offensive line and nobody to choose from. If I had to pick a backup among veteran tackles Pace Murphy, Darrell Williams, Jr. or rookie guard Andrew Lauderdale, I’d probably cut all of them and hire a five-year-old to build a wall using Legos and Elmer's glue instead.
Here are some excerpts from my notebook:
#78 Williams with a horrid block and zero effort
#78 Williams missed block; three Cowboys in the backfield (TE Hikutini and WR Robinson gave no effort)
#78 Williams allowed another hurry
#71 Murphy gave way too much ground on a draw play
#61 Lauderdale with a looping pull; no point of attack and gave too much ground
Overall: The second and third units give far too much depth; missing the point of attack; Cowboy’s defensive line is 1-to-2 yards in the backfield almost every play.
The 49ers needed to add depth to the offensive line during the offseason and because they ignored signing another interior player, the team may be forced to choose between a bad player and someone who cannot block a third-string defensive end.
Elephant in the Room: Beathard Has Not Made a Leap Forward
Let’s kill an absurd thought or theory: Nick Mullens is not going to challenge C.J. Beathard for the backup quarterback position.
Now that we’ve cleared up the obvious, Beathard looked like a carbon copy of himself from his rookie season.
Except for the long play-action bootleg Beathard completed to rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis, Beathard did not look like he's improved since last fall. He underthrew receivers and missed open targets. He finished the night completing only fifty percent of his throws.
On the last drive of the first half, I noted that it was possible Beathard missed an intermediate post route when he checked the ball down to a back. I could not find an angle to show if the post was open, but in my eyes, Beathard got rid of the ball without reading his receivers.
Beathard does not have the fortune to play behind a high-functioning offensive line, but he can’t finish a game going 10-for-20 with one interception. He needs to hang in the pocket longer and read his progressions, rather than run from ghosts and check down to the outlet receiver.
The first preseason game is always for players to knock off the offseason rust and for rookies to gain NFL experience. It’s important to take the successes as a foundation to build upon, and errors as mortar to solidify the building blocks.
The next two games against Houston and Indianapolis are critical for the offensive line to bond and for quarterbacks to hone the passing attack. An 8-to-10 play touchdown drive, with Garoppolo behind center, is a quick way for the first team to gain confidence.
Beathard also needs work with the first and second team so he can improve his footwork and read his receivers. I’d like to see him end up 15-for-20 with a touchdown pass this Saturday.
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