With two scheduled draft picks within the first 16 or 17 slots, the 49ers are expected to emerge from April 22 with a starting offensive lineman.
The 49ers’ offensive line is almost assuredly going to receive some help in 2010, as that unit was a major disappointment for coach Mike Singletary. He and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye had a vision of featuring a power-running game that could successfully pound the ball whenever it needed to achieve tough yards.
But the 49ers had a difficult time running the ball consistently. The club’s pass protection improved, as quarterback Alex Smith did a better job of throwing the ball on rhythm. But the 49ers still ranked 23rd in the league in sacks per pass play. (Let’s face it, a quarterback can make an offensive line look a lot better. Peyton Manning was sacked a league-low 13 times all season, and do you really believe the Colts’ offensive line was that good?)
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A year ago during the week of the combine, Singletary and GM Scot McCloughan both said they were flexible with Joe Staley. They agreed that if the club signed or drafted a better left tackle, they would not hesitate to move Staley back to right tackle.
I would imagine the same goes for this year. But the chances of the 49ers signing a better left tackle are slim and none, and it’s also highly unlikely they would draft a player who would be a better fit on the left side.
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I ran these same stats a while ago in the entry entitled, “Position Profile: Running backs.” But they’re probably more appropriate now with the offensive line. The statistics were compiled by the NFL’s Game Statistic and Information System.
Here is how the 49ers’ run plays were distributed:
Left end: 27 runs (4.81 average). League rank: 24th
Left tackle: 23 runs (2.38 average). League rank: 32nd
Left guard: 32 runs (2.0 average). League rank: 32nd
Middle: 171 runs (4.84 average). League rank: 3rd
Right guard: 38 runs (5.45 average). League rank: 2nd
Right tackle: 39 runs (2.95 average). League rank: 29th
Right end: 27 runs (6.07 average). League rank: 6th
According to these stats, the 49ers had problems in the run game behind left tackle (Barry Sims/Joe Staley), left guard (David Baas) and right tackle (Adam Snyder), and they thrived behind center (Eric Heitmann) and right guard (Chilo Rachal).
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And then we shift to STATS, Inc., for numbers on sacks allowed:
Adam Snyder: 9 sacks for 54 yards in 16 games (16 starts).
David Baas: 4 sacks for 26.5 yards in 16 games (16 starts).
Chilo Rachal: 4 sacks for 23 yards in 16 games (15 starts).
Joe Staley: 3 sacks for 18 yards in 9 games (9 starts).
Barry Sims: 2.5 sacks for 7 yards in 9 games (7 starts).
Tony Pashos: 2.5 sacks for 16 yards in 5 games (1 start).
Tony Wragge: 1 sack for 9 yards in limited duty (no starts).
Eric Heitmann: ½ sack for 3.5 yards in 16 games (16 starts).
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LT Joe Staley: After playing every snap his first two NFL seasons – the first year at right tackle, the next at left tackle – Staley sustained a knee injury in the seventh game of the season that limited him the rest of the year. He figures to be a starter for a long time. After all, the club has signed him to a reasonable salary through the 2017 season. He is not All-Pro caliber, but a team can win a lot of games with him as a starter. They also reserve the right to move him back to right tackle if they ever land a dominant left tackle.
C Eric Heitmann: He was again the team’s most consistent offensive lineman, and his starting job does not figure to be challenged for another year or two. Heitmann enters his ninth NFL season. He is very good working in tight spaces. Getting out front to lead screens or plays to the outside is not his strength. He has good size and better strength than a lot of centers, which is why the 49ers feel comfortable running the ball up the middle so often. Signed through 2011.
RG Chilo Rachal: He played so poorly in the beginning of the season that he lost his starting job for one game (until injuries forced him back into the primary role at right guard). Rachal, who turns 24 in March, has the size and the strength. But does he have the attitude and mean streak to be an enforcer at the guard position? His play leveled out later in the season, but he must get more consistent. That said, the 49ers are encouraged with his development.
LG David Baas: He got off to an extremely slow start after he missed most of training camp after he tore his plantar fascia during a “nutcracker” drill in the first days of training camp. His best game of the season was easily the Monday night victory over the Cardinals. Surprisingly, he was named the winner of the Bobb McKittrick Award. He is one of the players who will likely see his chance at unrestricted free agency evaporate because of the league’s labor situation, which requires a player to have six seasons of service before he can become an unrestricted free agent in an uncapped year. Therefore, the 49ers will likely tender him a one-year deal as a restricted free agent. The 49ers don’t seem to be in much of a hurry to reward him with a contract extension. If the 49ers draft a guard, Baas would likely be asked to compete for a starting job.
G/T Adam Snyder: He got his wish when he asked Singletary to be left alone at right tackle for the entire offseason program and training camp. But Snyder struggled once the season began, and was moved to right guard to start for a struggling Rachal. When Tony Pashos, who took over at right tackle, sustained a season-ending injury, Snyder was moved back to right tackle. Snyder has proved to be a good backup because of his versatility. He can step in at both tackle and guard positions. But the club is looking to add a player in the draft to take over at right tackle full-time. Signed through 2011.
T Barry Sims: Proved valuable to the 49ers as a veteran backup when Staley was injured early in the game against the Colts. Sims did a strong job against Dwight Freeney. Sims is scheduled for unrestricted free agency, and the 49ers have expressed a desire to retain him. Sims fits as a No. 3 tackle. It seems logical that both sides will work something out to keep him around.
T Tony Pashos: After he was among the Jaguars’ final cuts, he reportedly passed up more-lucrative offers to sign with the 49ers. He wanted to rejoin his former offensive line coach, Chris Foerster. He also believed he had a better chance to step in and play with the 49ers. Pashos worked his way into the starting job for the Oct. 25 game against the Texans, but sustained a broken shoulder blade and was placed on injured reserve. Now, Foerster has moved on to the Redskins, and Pashos will likely find a better opportunity elsewhere.
C Cody Wallace: Perhaps he should’ve known he didn’t necessarily fit into the team’s short-term plans when shortly after getting drafted in 2008, the 49ers signed Heitmann to a contract extension. Wallace must prove to be more versatile. He has to be able to play some guard just to get active on game day as a backup. In two full seasons with the 49ers, he has yet to show much. He has appeared in just one regular-season game, and that was just a cameo. Signed through 2011.
G/C Tony Wragge: On game days, he was typically the backup at center and both guard positions. He was also reported as eligible to play tight end on many short-yardage situations through the course of the season. The coaching staff did not appear to be too high on him last season. After all, when Rachal struggled, they opted to move Snyder to the starting role instead of Wragge. Signed through 2010.
T Chris Patrick: He was signed off the Chiefs’ practice squad after Pashos’ season-ending injury. Patrick played in just two games, including a couple of snaps at left tackle in the 49ers’ season-ending victory over the Rams. He’ll get a chance to show what he’s got in the offseason and training camp.
T Alex Boone: The 49ers took a chance when they signed him as an undrafted free agent. Boone, who had some notable run-ins with the law, maintained his focus last season on the practice squad. He showed during training camp that he just wasn’t ready for this level of competition. But the 49ers kept him around on the practice squad to have him work on his footwork. The 49ers are holding out hope that he can develop into a contributing right tackle, but he has a long ways to go.
G Brian de la Puente: He is back after the Chiefs claimed him after final cuts in 2008. He’ll be in a battle to earn a roster spot again this season. In order to make the team, he’ll likely have to prove he’s a better option than Wallace and Wragge.
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