Let’s talk 49ers offensive line

A lot of readers have been asking (breathlessly, in some cases) for some evaluations of the offensive line – specifically, of first-round rookies Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati.

It’s not hard to understand the interest. If Alex Smith is truly to turn a corner at quarterback this year, he will need to work behind an improved line. And the 49ers made a huge investment in the task this April. It seems clear that Davis and Iupati will help at some point, but when? Will they be ready to step in Week 1?

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the linemen while watching a practice. (I know, these guys weigh 300 pounds, but still…) So I trained my eyes on the big men this morning, and came away with a few observations.

First of all, the big disclaimer: Watching line play in a non-contact drill is a little like judging a NASCAR ride by how it performs while the driver takes his kid to school in the morning. The contact on the field this morning was muted. You could see a D-lineman beat his blocker with a speed move. You could watch a tackle’s footwork, and you could see when someone false started or held. But I left with no idea of who would win a true test of strength or nastiness.

That said…

I thought the rookies looked pretty solid. Both continue to line up with the second team, Iupati and left guard and Davis at right tackle. They certainly didn’t seem overwhelmed or blatantly mistake-prone. The offense ran a lot of sweeps today, and for the most part, Davis and Iupati kept up with the flow.

That’s especially encouraging for Davis, who sometimes struggled with weight and conditioning at Rutgers. He looked a little late sweeping left once, but generally moved well. Nice blocking vs. OLB Martail Burnett, swinging him around the circle clockwise while keeping his distance from the QB.

It’s definitely a new show for the rookies here in the NFL. A week after the draft, but before he became a VP, 49ers personnel honcho Trent Baalke showed us tape of the 2010 draft picks, and Davis consistently beat the other Rutgers O-linemen off the ball. It was comical, like he was moving on a different snap count. You sure didn’t see any of that in Santa Clara. These guys are all quick.

Iupati didn’t smash anybody, and he’s learning on the fly. On one snap, he pivoted left and right and found himself with no one to block. It happens. He has a presence, though. He held his ground on pass plays and on one play wound up pushing a linebacker eight yards downfield on a running play. Again, take it with a grain of salt, but he seems to be doing all the 49ers are asking of him for now.

Some other tidbits from the trenches:

• First-team RT Adam Snyder struggled a couple times. DT Khalif Mitchell beat him on one pass rush, and he seemed to have a little trouble staying in front of OLB Parys Haralson on a sweep right. I’m not suggesting you should read too much into this.
• OLB Ahmad Brooks flew right past LT Barry Sims with an inside move.
• T Chris Patrick moved early on one play.
• ILB Matt Wilhelm got past C Cody Wallace on a blitz.
• David Baas got snaps at center with the first team. Seems he and Tony Wragge both will get a chance to push Eric Heitmann for the starting job this year.

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