Staying and Going: Preparing the 49ers Offensive Line for 2021
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The San Francisco 49ers’ offensive line was not the cause of the team’s decline this year. The unit, unfortunately, became a lightning rod for criticism this fall.
There is plenty of blame to pass around for lack of offensive production, but not all of it should be shouldered by the line. The game film and statistics show the line’s overall performance was somewhat similar to previous seasons.
Right tackle Mike McGlinchey has been the punching bag for 49er fans as one main reason for the offense’s poor play. So far, McGlinchey has allowed five sacks this season, which is one fewer than last season. His run grade from Pro Football Focus is a 91.1, making him the second-best run-blocking tackle in football.
Currently, the best run-blocking tackle in football is 49ers’ left tackle Trent Williams.
The 49ers have given up 36 quarterback sacks, averaging about 2.25 per game as of writing this. Compare that to the Philadelphia Eagles, who have given up a league-high 62 sacks, approximately 3.9 per game.
The interior positions for the 49ers have allowed 10 of those sacks, while Williams and McGlinchey have given up a combined nine sacks.
The 49ers are still a significant threat on the ground, and last week were able to amass 227 yards on 30 carries. So far, the team has gained 1,803 rush yards and 18 touchdowns. These numbers are down from last year, but the 49er running back cadre has been the victim of the Grim Reaper’s blood lust and hunger for soft ankle tissue.
These statistics might soothe a savage soul, but are still not enough to win games.
The 49ers will once again enter the offseason needing to make significant upgrades at the right guard and the reserve linemen. The front office will also need to thin out the current roster to make room for improved players.
Good-Bye, Mr. Skule
Quite possibly, one of my favorite responses to one of my Twitter rants about Justin Skule was as follows: “Skule plays well in favorable match-ups.”
Well, that’s excellent news. Skule, a professional football player, plays well in the contests where he’s favored.
Outstanding! He can now stick around if the 49ers can some of the Bay Area junior varsity football squads to fill a 16-game schedule next fall. Then, Skule will be well on his way to immortality at the Wins the Favorable Match-Up Hall of Fame.
It has become evident, after 751 total snaps over two seasons, that Justin Skule is not a reliable back-up or starter. He has not and cannot consistently win the battle at the line of scrimmage. If the 49ers run into another injury problem next year at tackle or guard, the way to a championship is not with Justin Skule on the offensive line.
General manager John Lynch needs to find a way to part ways with Skule, whether through a restructured contract and subsequent release or a package trade to a team that needs an emergency offensive lineman.
Move McKivitz Back to Swing Tackle
Imagine, if you will, that the roof above your head is in dire need of replacement. It’s an old, shake-shingle roof that’s been through more than its fair share of storms and sun. Installing a new roof is not in your skill set, so you set out to find an expert roofer in your area. After looking at a handful of résumés, all showing great prices and experience, you throw each one into a paper shredder.
“I don’t need an actual roofer,” you say as the papers shredder gnashes the résumés. “My neighborhood handyman can do it! He helped me with some sheetrock two years ago and rewired my bathroom lighting. Surely he can roof a house.”
The handyman is touched to receive your phone call and offer of straight cash for payment but makes it clear: “I haven’t roofed a house in a decade, and I don’t have a team or the right equipment to do the job quickly.”
Ignoring these matters of sheer fact, you throw all common sense into fickle hands of hope and hire him anyway. He can swing a hammer and wield a SKILSAW with one hand. How hard could a roof be?
Weeks later, the roof is complete, but you don’t find out if it is seaworthy until the first summer storm rolls through and blows all the shingles off the house and down the road.
Key lesson: If you want a new roof, hire an expert. If you want an offensive guard, draft an offensive guard.
When the 49ers took tackle Colton McKivitz late in the 2020 draft, I thought it was wise. He’d probably make the 2020 roster as a swing tackle, see a little bit of time and maybe build a career as a reliable back-up.
Alas, I have not learned my lesson with the 49ers. They drafted a college tackle, one who had never taken a snap at guard, intending to convert him into an interior lineman.
Please see the above analogy about hiring a handyman to roof a house.
I was not shocked to see the 49ers take a tackle late in the 2020 NFL draft. After all, they needed a back-up, and a late-round pick might have done the job.
And since this is 2020, McKivitz has seen the field this year at guard, taking 260 snaps and making two starts.
McKivitz is not a long-term solution to the right guard problem. Still, he reflects Lynch and Shanahan’s refusal to address an ongoing problem with a tangible, real-world solution. However, he does deserve to make the roster next year and for the coaching staff to move him back to tackle.
Tom Compton: He’s Just Happy to Be Here
I would happily take another full year of Jimmy Garoppolo debate before hearing or reading the following statement ever again:
“Well, he played for Shanahan in (insert team here), so this is a good offseason move to fill a void for the 49ers.”
One player who has previously been with Shanahan has performed for the 49ers, and that man is Trent Williams. Brian Hoyer was a disaster, Alfred Morris hardly made an impact, and Mohamed Sanu played in approximately three games this season for the 49ers.
Now, we can add veteran guard Tom Compton to that list of players.
Compton played for Shanahan in Washington and Atlanta. That’s wonderful, but he hardly lit the world on fire for either team when Shanahan was calling plays.
There is a vast difference between knowing an offense and executing it at a high level at full speed. Compton has shown neither.
As noted earlier in the year, after Mike Person retired, the 49ers had the opportunity to fill the right guard spot with a competent veteran. Instead, they sat around and picked up Compton off the dung heap.
Compton only signed a one-year deal with the 49ers, which means the front office could ignore him, and he’d quietly pack his bags. But something tells me they’ll offer him another contract in February.
Weston Richburg: The Center That Never Was
I was so excited when the 49ers brought Weston Richburg to Santa Clara. Richburg was coming off a bad concussion suffered during the 2017 season, but I thought a new place with new faces would bring him back to the playing level he achieved in 2015 and 2016.
Unfortunately, Richburg suffered a series of painful injuries as a 49er and hasn’t made the impact anyone expected. I don’t like seeing players get released or cut simply due to bad luck, but veteran Ben Garland has been a better center for the 49ers.
It’s entirely possible Richburg is also back next year with Garland as a reserve center or guard since the 49ers invested nearly $50 million in him.
But they could try and put together a trade to offload Richburg and possibly gain a draft pick or a quality veteran, which feels like the likely scenario.
The 49ers’ offensive line has been through the wringer this year but is a right guard away from becoming a top ten unit in the NFL. However, Lynch and Shanahan will have to take the time to find a healthy right guard that has Laken Tomlinson’s invincibility and Trent Williams’ ability.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
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