Should the 49ers’ OL Preseason Opener Performance Cause Concern?


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Preseason Week 1 is about as meaningful as a city flag football championship. During a press conference on August 8, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan noted he did not need four practice games to start an NFL season.

“Yeah, you absolutely don’t need four preseason games. I’d rather have zero than four, preferably I’d like two. One to evaluate the people trying to make the team and then just one to knock a little rust off.”

There is, however, a lot of excitement coming into the preseason for some players and most fans. Everyone wants to see if the new guys are everything they are cracked up to be, which often leads to overthinking and far too much overanalyzing.

The 49ers did not start a single first-team offensive lineman on Saturday. But the possible reserve players did a fine job protecting quarterbacks Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard and rookie Wilton Speight.

Pro Football Focus noted that the 49ers’ offensive line only allowed three hits, two hurries, and five pressures. The lone sack was given up by tight end Tyree Mayfield at the 14:53 mark of the 3rd quarter.

Further, the 49ers offense gained 339 net yards, with 251 passing yards and 88 yards on the ground.

Statistically speaking, that’s a quality performance by a group of men who may end up on a practice squad or bouncing around the league for a few years.

If There Is Concern, It Lay in the Back-Ups

My football philosophy has always started with the men in the trenches. In my eyes, that’s how pro football teams win championships. You may want to build your team differently, and you may like ranch dressing with your hot wings. These, my friends, are the elements that make all of us different.

But keep in mind if the five men up front resemble a five-lane freeway on-ramp, there’s zero point in drafting or signing a high-priced quarterback or receiver.

During the offseason, general manager John Lynch and Shanahan selected a punter in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL draft, bypassing guard Dru Samia. Later, they drafted tackle Justin Skule in the sixth round. On May 6, the 49ers signed veteran tackle Willie Beavers, who’d been hanging around on the Chicago Bears’ practice squad. The team also signed a handful of other no-name offensive linemen.

Beavers entered the game early after swing tackle Shon Coleman suffered a lower leg injury.

It was not a memorable performance for Beavers. He allowed two hits, one hurry, three pressures, and had three holding penalties. Two of those flags were thrown on back-to-back plays.

Skule played 64 snaps, allowing one hit, one hurry, and two pressures. He was also flagged for a hold early in the third quarter.

On Monday afternoon, the 49ers announced tackle Sam Young signed a one-year contract. In typical 49er fashion, Young is a journeyman tackle, with nearly 1,700 career snaps. Young has made 21 starts in 88 appearances and played his most snaps (451) in 2017 while with the Miami Dolphins.

Yes, the 49ers’ back-ups and players-to-be cut played well enough against Dallas’ substitutes.

That’s not enough to stop Aaron Donald or Bobby Wagner. Band-Aids, gauze, and surgical glue are no way to build a roster, especially the five men who control the fate of the skill positions.

None of these men give me any confidence if Joe Staley or Mike McGlinchey should succumb to a season-long injury.

Further complicating things is guard Joshua Garnett’s dislocated finger and center Weston Richburg still listed on the physically unable to perform list.

I have noted time and again Shanahan’s aversion to making real investments in the offensive line. Yes, the team drafted tackle Mike McGlinchey last year – but only because it had to.

Indeed, not every player on any roster can be an all-pro. The 49ers cannot have a next-man-up mentality if there is no next man. Practice squad linemen do not win championships. There is no time to coach up below-average players with the hope that the starter doesn’t get hurt, and if he does, the back-up plays just kind of okay.

The 49ers’ starters need to see the field and get some live reps under their belt. At the same time, I’m also terrified of the Grim Reaper terrorizing the 49ers roster with his skeleton hand and iced scythe.

As usual, I am both excited and uneasy about next week’s game against Denver. Unfortunately, Carl Jung isn’t taking any more appointments.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.

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