• Matt Barr

Inside Out: Why Injuries Could Make the Interior Offensive Line a Liability

Image Credit: New York Giants

The San Francisco 49ers entered the 2019 offseason as a team with many a need, the most prevalent being pass rush, linebacker and the secondary. The front office was quick to address those positions with the acquisitions of defensive end Dee Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Jason Verrett respectively. With John Lynch and Co. busy throwing money at all levels of the defense, one position group that has been ignored has been the offensive line.

Other than re-signing starting right guard Mike Person to a three-year extension, no moves have been made on the offensive front. This means that Kyle Shanahan’s offense is slated to return the starters from the 2018 campaign along the interior: Laken Tomlinson at left guard, Weston Richburg at center and Person at right guard. Rounding out the reserves are Joshua Garnett, Erik Magnuson and Najee Toran, who combined for a whopping 148 snaps last year. This inexperience among the backups could prove to be a serious problem during the season if the starters incur any long-term injuries.

Luckily, the 49ers’ offensive line did not sustain any major injuries throughout the rest of the 2018 season. It is extremely rare to see an entire offensive line play at least part of all 16 season games together. That is not to say the group was perfectly healthy as Weston Richburg, in particular, dealt with a chronic knee injury that has since required surgery this offseason. Richburg’s surgery and how he recovers will be a major factor moving forward.

The lack of quality depth has proven to be an issue for this group in the past. In Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings, Person exited the game with a foot injury and was replaced by Garnett. However, Garnett was only able to play 14 offensive snaps before being carted off with a foot injury of his own. This forced rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey to slide to the guard spot while veteran swing tackle Garry Gilliam took over the RT duties. While McGlinchey performed admirably in a foreign position during his first career start, Gilliam was abused and the 49ers’ offense could not muster enough to match the Vikings.

The perceived need at wide receiver pales in comparison to quality interior offensive linemen. Even though Person was brought back, the money screams of a backup extension. Kyle Shanahan is as cognizant as any as to the importance of being able to keep the quarterback upright and opening up lanes for the running backs. Heading into the draft, do not be surprised if the 49ers address the guard position to slot in ahead of Person, pushing him to the primary reserve role. With franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo returning from an ACL injury, a deficiency along the front is something the 49ers can ill afford.

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