The San Francisco 49ers have high aspirations for this upcoming season but also have a weakness that must be fixed imminently; that issue is the O-Line.
The 2022 NFL preseason has ended, and the San Francisco 49ers finished at a 2-1 record. The Niners did not perform poorly in the preseason. But don’t get me wrong; they weren’t necessarily magnificent.
But that’s no big deal. It is the preseason, after all, and as we all know, the designated set of exhibition games, called the NFL preseason, is plagued with trial and error. However, last Sunday night, considering factors I will get into later in this article, the Niner’s offensive line looked like a massive cause of concern for Kyle Shanahan going into a critical season in 2022. As I see it, this is the 49er’s primary weakness entering the 2022 NFL season.
Looming doom at the hands of the 49ers’ offensive line?
The Niner’s last preseason game exposed a glaring red flag that 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan should fix to serve better the future of the Niners football team and, ultimately, their hopeful franchise quarterback, Trey Lance. The 49er’s depleted and inexperienced offensive line is the 49er’s most considerable concern entering the 2022 season, and if it isn’t fixed, they could be headed straight toward disaster.
Lance didn’t wow any in the postseason, but he did enough to ensure he is no weakness in San Francisco. Containing the likes of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk, the receiving room is star-studded, and the running back room is deep in competitive depth.
Since I mentioned starstudded, with an improved secondary, San Francisco’s defense is spearheaded and led by one of the best defensive two-headed monsters in the NFL, Nick Bosa and Fred Warner. Enough to ensure that San Francisco’s defense will hardly be considered a weakness.
Understandably, San Francisco was missing some key players on the offensive line for the preseason. But with Lance entering his initial season at the helm and the Niners possessing a rush-centric offense, I’m concerned about the lack of a specific, viable plan for the offensive line unit in 2022.
This summer, before free agency began, I mentioned that the 49ers general manager John Lynch couldn’t allow this one player to slip away in free agency. That one player was G Laken Tomlinson, now a member of the New York Jets, protecting a different QB entering his sophomore season, Zack Wilson.
The 49er’s misfortune on their offensive line did not end there this past off-season. C Alex Mack riding off into the sunset and retiring, combined with losing Laken Tomlinson, was naturally going to invoke a paradigm shift within the Niner’s offensive line. However, negligence and overdependence on pro bowler Trent Williams have backed the Niners into a corner if Williams isn’t available due to injury or other unforeseen circumstances.
Unironically, Williams missed all of this year’s preseason games thus far, presumably after injuring his ankle last postseason. Since this is the preseason, there is no guarantee he would have played in any event. So the Niners entered the field Sunday in uncharted territory regarding the offensive line unit they sent out onto the gridiron.
The Houston Texans took advantage, and the 49er’s offensive line looked outmanned, out-gunned, and nearly out of options. The Texans shut out the Niners 17-0, and Lance spent his only three possessions of the night on the run at the hands of the Texan’s front seven. The Texans defensive line got to Lance early and often in the contest.
It appeared that Shanahan had eventually seen enough and pulled Lance early from the game out of precaution. No doubt about it, that’s concerning. Nevertheless, ultimately it’s a good sign that Shanahan pulled Lance from the game due to a lack of protection, subtly conveying his thoughts on the matter.
Since coach Shanahan pulled Lance from the game early, it’s plausible to believe that he understands he must take action to address the offensive line. So long as the goal is for Lance to finish the 2022 season healthy and in one piece.
Outmanned, Out-gunned & Out of Options for the 49ers?
It’s challenging to say who exactly will be in the starting lineup for the offensive line when the 49ers travel to Soldier Field to open their season up against the Chicago Bears. And it’s not fair to judge them solely off their performances in the preseason, considering a bulk of these players will likely be non-starters. It is reasonable to question why the Niners weren’t more prepared and haven’t made any significant offensive-line moves to measure what they lost.
So I must ask, where is the care necessary to protect your young quarterback, to make another run at the Lombardi trophy? You still have to play Aaron Donald, among other notable defense stars, in the NFC West conference twice a season. So having a subpar offensive line is frankly a recipe for disaster.
The issue has quickly blossomed from a nuisance to a severe problem. Will this problem be enough to give T Andrew Whitworth, who retired from the Los Angeles Rams last season, a call? A viable option, but at age 40, hardly a long-term one. Perhaps spark a blockbuster trade or sign one of the remaining vets in free agency?
The Niners have had many other issues this past offseason to consider, including developing Lance, a disgruntled Deebo Samuel, and the ongoing Jimmy Garoppolo saga. Some problems are solved, and some are in the process.
But it appears they have, maybe, allowed those other complications to lead them to neglect a priority just as important, their offensive line. This problematic situation on the offensive line is something that I’m confident is causing offensive savant Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch to lose sleep at night.
As mentioned, the NFC West division is filled with defensive game-changers, poised to manufacture headaches to a San Francisco offense that will naturally be a work-in-progress at its inception with Lance at the helm. The Niner regime must fasten this glaring weakness. San Fran and John Lynch must ensure their next move is their best. The success and health of their 2022 season and championship contention depend on it.