The SF 49ers are experiencing some troubles with their offensive line in training camp, and those could translate into problems by Week 1 and beyond.
If there’s one piece to the SF 49ers‘ proverbial puzzle getting back to the Super Bowl this season, it very well could be the offensive line.
More importantly, the interior of it. While worrying about left tackle Trent Williams and, at least to a lesser extent, right tackle Mike McGlinchey is premature and mostly unnecessary, the center and right guard spots are quite worrisome.
The prime culprit, of course, has been injuries. They’ve piled up, both during training camp and stemming from last season.
In a way, the Niners planned for this to a certain extent. They re-signed backup center Ben Garland to a one-year deal after he adequately filled in for starting center Weston Richburg from Week 14 last year and onward through the playoffs. Additionally, San Francisco selected former West Virginia lineman Colton McKivitz in Round 5 of this year’s NFL Draft, hoping to find a quality backup capable of playing both tackle and guard spots.
Yet Richburg, who suffered a torn patellar tendon late last year, is expected to start 2020 on the physically unable-to-perform list and won’t be available for the first six weeks. If that’s not bad enough, Garland is also banged up. He suffered an ankle injury earlier in training camp, and head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters the injury was “worse than others.”
The injuries have prompted Shanahan to shuffle his O-line a lot during camp, both to get the right number of reps between starting and reserve units and to see how potential fill-in replacements could work.
The presumed starting right guard, Daniel Brunskill, has been taking snaps at center. From most reports out there, he’s performed OK in this role. But his strengths are going to be felt more at guard where he’s clearly more comfortable. The problem, however, is the SF 49ers don’t exactly have a lot of decent options other than Brunskill at center.
SF 49ers’ biggest O-line weakness could be at right guard
Garland’s availability is the big X-factor here. While he’s nowhere near the caliber of player Richburg is, Garland is still a viable backup. That’s something the Niners have to monitor.
Should Garland be unavailable, as ankle injuries can be tricky and the recoveries lengthy, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Brunskill fill in as the impromptu starter, opening up quite the void at right guard.
Entering training camp and certainly up to the point of Garland’s injury, it wasn’t looking as if veteran right guard Tom Compton would make San Francisco’s 53-man roster. He was regularly struggling against backup pass-rushers, both in one-on-one and full-team drills. It would be one thing to be overworked by some of the SF 49ers’ elite defensive linemen. But to lose bouts against the likes of defensive tackles Kentavius Street and Kevin Givens, who are depth pieces at best, it’s not a good sign.
Likewise, McKivitz has had only flashes of promise interrupting large stretches where he looks like a day-three rookie. It’s fairly clear he’s struggling from the lack of spring workouts eliminated by the global pandemic.
Yet both McKivitz and Compton could end up making the regular-season roster by Week 1, and it wouldn’t be a shock if the Niners are forced to start at least one of them early.
If for no other reason than there aren’t any other viable options aside from a dwindling, less-than-promising crop of still-available free agents within San Francisco’s price range.
This doesn’t exactly bode well for a 49ers team playing top-level interior defenders, such as the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald.
Hopefully the situation is about as rectified as much as possible when the Niners and Rams square off for the first time this season in Week 6.