Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day.
-King Henry, Scene III. Henry V
Fans remember offensive line play in two instances. The first is for a bad block, the other for an ugly injury.
Nobody will remember that San Francisco 49ers’ center Weston Richburg was having a solid 2019 season.
We will collectively forget that he’d only allowed one sack - coincidently against New Orleans. Lost to time will be Richburg’s improved pass blocking, and how he’d cut his allowed hurries and pressures by half from 2018.
Sadly, we’ll overlook how well Richburg was taking command of the line and the connection he had with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Faithful fans, however, will remember when Richburg’s 2019 season ended in the third quarter against the New Orleans Saints.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed Monday afternoon that Richburg tor his patellar tendon when he hit the ground and was bent back at a brutal angle.
When Richburg was headed off the field, the 49ers sent in reserve center Ben Garland, a relatively unknown player who’s made seven starts since 2017.
Leading up to training camp, I noted the lack of quality reserve linemen on the 49ers’ 90-man roster. Garland had an upside that the other men did not – he played 50 snaps in Shanahan’s offense in 2016.
Also, Garland rotated at center with the first-team offense during OTAs and some of training camp.
Garland’s background, versatility, and experience were enough for him to beat out former first-round pick Joshua Garnett.
But Garland hardly saw the field during the regular season, tallying only 29 snaps this over 14 weeks.
How well did Garland perform when the stakes were high, and the 49ers’ offense had to put up twenty points in the second half to secure a victory?
He did so well that I forgot Richburg wasn’t at center.
“… he (Garland) did a hell of a job when he came in,” said Shanahan in Monday afternoon’s press conference. “Replacing Richburg is a huge job. He’s played very well for us this year and Ben came in, and we were able to not miss a beat. He stepped it up, knew the game plan well, blocked those guys even when they were the head up nose. When he was uncovered he got through to the second level and made a number of plays in the game that helped us.”
Over 36 snaps against the Saints, Garland allowed one hurry and one pressure.
The 49ers are doing something with their reserve linemen that had only existed in my dreams. They are fulfilling the next-man-up philosophy.
In previous seasons, the 49ers tried to skate by with men who had no business playing professional football.
Now, I’ll admit I still had that fear clinging to my bones coming into the 2019 season.
The 49er executive office did little to bring in new talent to deepen the offensive line. It was an odd strategy considering Shanahan experienced what happens when terrible reserve linemen fail to play at the same level as the starter.
Both general manager John Lynch and Shanahan do not value expensive guards – not rookies, starters, or reserves. They’d instead squeeze as much talent out of an average player and spend cash on a skill position.
Shanahan had not convinced me he could get unknown reserve linemen to play as well as his starters. This year, he converted me to his way of thinking.
Tackle Daniel Brunskill has played exceptionally well filling in for both Mike McGlinchey and Joe Staley. Rookie Justin Skule had his moments of decent play this year, and another season in the system might make him a quality reserve player.
It’s now Garland’s turn to show that the 49ers’ coaching staff has what it takes to turn wads of cookie dough into men carved out of wood.
Three more times into the regular breach, dear friends, three times. Now is when the 49ers’ offensive line must stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood to finish off the 2019 season as a top team in the NFC.
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