49ers Offensive Line Training Camp Primer: Building Chemistry
Image Credit: Chicago Tribune
Football offseason reminds me of an unreliable car. Sometimes, it feels like training camp will never arrive, and we're collectively stuck at the side of the road with a smoking, seized engine. Then, before we know it, we're driving a V-10, turbo-charged engine with high octane gasoline and liquid oxygen.
The San Francisco 49ers enter the 2021 season with a competitive roster, at least on paper. That is, so long as Grim Reaper and his injury scythe decide to make a home in another locker room this fall.
Last year, some fingers pointed at the 49ers' offensive line as the primary reason for overall sluggishness and inconsistency. These fingers need to find another scapegoat, and those eyes need to watch more film. The 49ers' offensive line, despite the injuries, had a solid season.
A careful film study made it clear that 49er quarterbacks and the offensive line were not in a symbiotic relationship. There was little harmony, and nobody found his way into a flourishing grove.
Here's what to expect from the offensive line over the next few weeks.
LT – Trent Williams
LG – Laken Tomlinson
C – Alex Mack
RG – Aaron Banks
RT – Mike McGlinchey
On March 18, 2021, the San Francisco 49ers signed Pro Bowl center Alex Mack to a three-year deal worth nearly $15 million and $5.6 million in guaranteed money.
Since 2009, Mack has played over 12,100 snaps, with roughly 12 percent or 1,500 of those snaps while head coach Kyle Shanahan was calling plays.
A running theory among some fans is that previous experience in a coach's offense means success when the player and coach meet again. That's far too hollow for me to accept as gospel. However, Mack noted his connection to head coach Kyle Shanahan during his March 18 press conference.
"The 49ers, obviously there's a connection with Kyle Shanahan, and him as a head coach and the offense he runs, that always has been something that I know it's a system I can be really good in," said Mack.
I expect Mack to make significant improvements to the interior of the line and provide solid leadership that's been missing from the center position.
Remember, Mack has made 179 career starts, only suffering a broken fibula in 2014 and a concussion in 2020. The broken fibula resulted in Mack missing his first start in his professional career, and the concussion ended a streak of 90 straight regular-season starts.
The 49ers have had this type of durability from left guard Laken Tomlinson and are in dire need of the same consistency at center.
After solving the center problem with Mack, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch looked to fix their right guard problem. During this year's draft, the two men surprised many and selected left guard Aaron Banks out of Notre Dame in the second round.
Banks will compete for the starting right guard position in a few days, which will be the best competition in camp. Ultimately, Banks will win the starting role.
Banks' college tape revealed fast footwork in pass protection, setting and resetting his feet quickly to react to his opponent. He has good extension and refuses to allow the defensive lineman into his body. Banks has experience in a zone system but will need to hone his technique and not rely on his sheer size to take on NFL linebackers.
· Utility – Daniel Brunskill
· Tackle – Jaylon Moore
· Utility – Colton McKivitz
· Guard – Dakoda Shepley
Image Credit: Associated Press
Before shouting profanities at the computer screen, let's ground ourselves in reality. Brunskill is a serviceable reserve guard or center. He's not a player to rely upon for consistent, quality play,but he is one of the few linemen in pro football who can play at any position on the line of scrimmage.
Moving Banks to the starting role allows Shanahan to keep Brunskill on the roster as one of his best reserves.
Rookie tackle Jaylon Moore will edge out veteran Shon Coleman for a spot on the final roster. It's a shame that Coleman's career as a 49er has been all of five or six preseason snaps. He opted out last year, which I believe will hurt his chances coming into camp.
Second-year veteran Colton McKivitz saw just shy of 300 snaps last year on offense, with nearly all at right guard. However, McKivitz played tackle in college. He could be another utility player for Shanahan, filling in guard or tackle if needed. I still believe Shanahan needs to allow McKivitz to play his natural position. Unfortunately, I have yet to be hired as Shanahan's special assistant to give him this advice.
Finally, I'm very excited to watch guard Dakoda Shepley during the preseason.
Shepley had a very brief NFL career in 2018 but was released by the New York Jets after three preseason games. He then ended up playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who drafted him fifth overall in 2018. In his only season with the Roughriders, Shepley was selected as the team’s Most Outstanding Rookie.
Shepley was on the 49ers' roster last year but spent most of the season on the practice squad. He's not a player I'd sleep on this year and would nicely round out the reserve unit.
And no, Gentle Reader, the answer is not Tom Compton either. Shanahan was forced to play Compton last year, and it was not a spectacle to remember.
I do not know a single thing about rookie Alfredo Gutierrez, other than he's a 6'9", 330-pound player who is part of the NFL's International Player Pathway program. He'll probably end up on the practice squad, but I am dying to see what a man of his size does against NFL talent.
· Tackle – Shon Coleman
· Guard – Tom Compton
· OL - Jake Brendel
· OL - Corbin Kaufusi
· OL - Senio Clemente
· OL - Isaiah Williams
As previously noted, Coleman will not make the final roster this fall. That might sadden a handful of people, but they will rejoice when Compton is also shown the door.
If you're learning offensive line play, take note of a player like Banks or Tomlinson at guard, then compare their play to Compton. It's a night-and-day difference.
"Camp body" is such an insulting term for an athlete. It sounds like these players will get run over by a human lawnmower, but such is the harsh reality of professional football. I don't believe the final four men listed above will make much of a roster impact or challenge for a reserve role.
It's wild to be on the cusp of the 2021 season and to have tickets to a live football game this fall. Enjoy the next few weeks and be sure to ignore anyone who frets over camp interceptions.
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