Strength and Stability: What Alex Mack Brings to the 49ers
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The professional football offseason is a fickle, forgetful few months. What is newsworthy on Monday can quickly become overshadowed by a monster transaction in less than 24 hours.
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.
That news tickled the ventricles of my icy heart. I could begin the 2021 season knowing that the 49ers would have, at the very least, a reliable interior offensive lineman.
But Mack’s new contract quickly became the forgotten prom date once the 49ers announced they’d traded up to the third pick in the 2021 NFL draft. I understand why the draft pick is the youthful secretary that pushed Mack into the back of the fans’ minds.
However, those who live and breathe the offensive line are well aware that a veteran center can have a far more significant impact on an offense than a quarterback fresh out of his dorm room.
Comfort in an Old Winter Coat
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.
Usually, I don’t buy into the theory that playing in a specific offense means success, but 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.
Shanahan keeps his calls roughly the same, but he’s not running an identical offense as he was in Atlanta. As plays evolve, blocks change. As defenses catch onto trends or tells, an offense changes its audibles and calls. But things such as Jet or Scat protection are littered throughout the NFL. Mack is a 12-year veteran, and it wouldn’t matter if he were in Shanahan’s offense or playing under Jon Gruden – those protections look and sound the same.
Mack’s biggest challenge will be learning any changed protection terminology. He doesn’t need Shanahan’s coaching to continue to be one of the better centers in football, but he will need to work to gain the respect of the starting offensive linemen quickly.
Mack at Center; Move Garland to Right Guard
Don’t look here for any objective opinion about Brunskill, nor in any previous work. It’s time fans and experts reject the notion that a good game here and there is enough to make one a starting offensive lineman in the NFL.
Brunskill is a serviceable reserve guard or center. He’s not a player to rely upon for consistent, quality play.
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.
Garland hurt his calf after five games last season and did not allow a sack during any of those starts. He had a rough game against Miami but put together a quality performance against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 6.
Garland was and still is the obvious priority to sign now and would complement Mack nicely on the right. He knows the line audibles and calls, and he is familiar with the ebb and flow of Shanahan’s offense. Garland’s technique is far sounder than Brunskill’s and would bring a desperate upgrade to the right side.
He’s Like a Piece of Iron!
I won’t shake a spiteful, craggy finger in the faces of the 49er front office for signing veteran center Weston Richburg to a $47.5 million contract in March 2018. He was a necessary addition to a roster that previously thought Zane Beadles and Tim Barnes were championship-caliber players.
Unfortunately for Richburg, he could not shake the injury demons and never reached what I thought could have been a solid career in Santa Clara.
He played in nearly every game in 2018 and helped the 49ers rush for over 2,300 yards in 2019. Unfortunately, Richburg tore his right patellar tendon in Week 14 of the 2019 season, and he never truly recovered.
Richburg did not play a down in 2020, and earlier in March, he underwent hip surgery. After these operations, I’d imagine that Richburg will not play another down in football, so I do not blame the 49ers for seeking out a durable center.
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.
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