Right guard might be 49ers' most intriguing position battle in training camp

Spencer Burford versus Dominick Puni versus Jon Feliciano.
San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Spencer Burford (L)
San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Spencer Burford (L) / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

The 49ers have a number of different possible outcomes at right guard, all of them provocative and important.

Between free agency and the 2024 NFL Draft, the No. 1 consensus need the San Francisco 49ers had to address appeared to be the offensive line, specifically the right side of it.

While the Niners opted not to grab a clear-cut upgrade over incumbent right tackle Colton McKivitz, they did muddy the depth chart waters at right guard by adding former Kansas lineman Dominick Puni in Round 3.

Sure, it's been a San Francisco strategy to draft players for needs a year in advance. But Puni's presence casts a long shadow over what could be one of the more interesting position battles heading into training camp this July.

A year ago, the 49ers employed a rotation at right guard between linemen Spencer Burford and Jon Feliciano, the former receiving the lion's share of snaps, 79.4 percent.

That said, Burford was also primarily responsible for some key missed blocks in the overtime Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, which drew some rather shocking ire from Feliciano in the immediate aftermath.

Burford, a 2022 fourth-round pick out of UTSA, now finds himself in a spot where he has to defend his starting job against not only Feliciano, but also Puni.

And the Niners may not again entertain a rotation heading into 2024.

Who's in the fight at right guard entering 49ers training camp?

Kyle Posey at Niners Nation collected a swarm of evidence and material about this provocative camp battle, coming to the conclusion that San Francisco must avoid heading into yet another year with a rotation at right guard.

Contained therein was an accurate description about what Burford's strengths are but in contrast against his weaknesses, including a relative inability to see the "big picture:"

"If Burford makes the mental jump where he’s consistently looking at each play from the big picture, we’ll be talking about an extension next offseason. If not, an experienced athlete with a similar [skill set] awaits behind him."

Posey pointed out how "consistency," not ability, was Burford's biggest issue. It's not just a matter of strength or proper blocking, but it's also about technique and awareness. Those areas have been lacking, which might explain why Puni was the pick in Round 3 last April.

And Puni is the specific player about whom Posey was referring when discussing "an experienced athlete" behind Burford.

Why should 49ers eliminate right guard rotation?

Having bona fide roles is beneficial. Sure, depth matters, and no one will complain about getting more snaps.

But, divvying up the snaps at right guard between Burford, Feliciano and now Puni only fuels that inconsistency that plagued the former over the course of 2023. And that inconsistency carried over into the Super Bowl where it was on display for the rest of the world to see.

Posey added:

"The 49ers need to roll with Burford or Puni unless they decide on Jon Feliciano. The only way young players will learn is by playing through their mistakes. If the coaching staff isn’t willing to give Burford a third year to prove himself, let the rookie take his early season lumps.

But you’re not doing anybody a favor by rotating them during games."

Historically, San Francisco has preferred going with the best option at every position regardless of contract, draft status or some other preference. The rotation at right guard is an outlier and one that won't help Burford's maturation, nor will it greatly aid Puni's own development.

Instead, those two (three, including Feliciano) need to fight it out in camp in order to be a bona fide No. 1 on the depth chart.

Read more from Niner Noise