Solari’s task: Get a rookie ready to start in 2010

New 49ers offensive line coach Mike Solari will have the responsibility, beginning the weekend after the draft, of getting a rookie ready for the starting lineup in 2010.

 

At least, that’s what I anticipate for the 49ers’ new offensive line coach.

 

It’s a job that offensive line coaches across the NFL have every season. And they almost always deliver. In fact, offensive line is the closest thing to a can’t-miss position in the first round of the draft.

 

Solari was the Seahawks offensive line coach last season. The Seahawks selected Max Unger with the No. 49 overall pick. Unger started all 16 games (the first 13 at right guard and the final three at center).

 

And while we can’t be sure whom (or what position) the 49ers will pick in the first round of this year’s draft, it seems logical that at some point they will select an offensive lineman to be a 2010 starter. And history would seem to show that – if he’s healthy – he will not be on the sideline.

 

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In the past five years, there have been 23 offensive linemen selected in the first round. Twenty-two of those players were considered starters from the beginning. Four players the past two seasons missed the bulk of their rookie seasons with injuries.

 

The only lineman chosen in the first round who was not a starter as a rookie was center Chris Spencer of the Seahawks. Spencer, the 26th selection of 2005, was a player then-GM Tim Ruskell forced onto then-coach Mike Holmgren. But Holmgren already had his center, veteran Robbie Tobeck. After that rookie season, Spencer has averaged 13.5 starts a season.

 

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OFFENISVE LINEMEN IN FIRST ROUND

(With starts as a rookie)

 

2009

2, Jason Smith, Rams: 5 starts (injury)

6, Andre Smith, Bengals: 1 start (injury)

8, Eugene Monroe, Jaguars: 13 starts

23, Michael Oher, Ravens: 16 starts

O-lineman in first round average 8.8 starts as rookies

 

2008

1, Jake Long, Dolphins: 16 starts

12, Ryan Clady, Broncos: 16 starts

14, Chris Williams, Bears: 0 starts (injury)

15, Brenden Albert, Chiefs: 15 starts

17, Gosder Cherilus, Lions: 13 starts

19, Jeff Otah, Panthers: 12 starts

21, Sam Baker, Falcons: 5 starts (injury)

26, Duane Brown, Texans (16 starts)

O-lineman in first round average 11.6 starts as rookies

 

2007

3, Joe Thomas, Browns: 16 starts

5, Levi Brown, Cardinals: 11 starts

28, Joe Staley, 49ers: 16 starts

29, Ben Grubbs, Ravens: 12 starts

O-lineman in first round average 13.8 starts as rookies

 

2006

4, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Jets: 16 starts

23, Davin Joseph, Bucs: 12 starts

29, Nick Mangold, Jets: 16 starts

O-lineman in first round average 14.7 starts as rookies

 

2005

13, Jammal Brown, Saints: 13 starts

19, Alex Barron, Rams: 11 starts

26, Chris Spencer, Seahawks: 0 starts (veteran Robbie Tobeck remained in starting role)

32, Logan Mankins, Patriots: 16 starts

O-lineman in first round average 10.0 starts as rookies

 

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Here’s an article I wrote on this topic for The Press Democrat leading up to the 2008 draft:

 

LINEMEN: LITTLE FANFARE, BIG REWARD: PLAYERS ALONG THE OFFENSIVE LINE CAN BE SHUFFLED AROUND AND USUALLY EASILY COACHED

 

Published on April 22, 2008
© 2008- The Press Democrat


BY MATT MAIOCCO

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT


There is generally not a lot of fanfare involved, but NFL teams looking for a safe investment with their first-round pick need look no further than the big fellas up front.

 

More than seven offensive linemen could be chosen Saturday in the first round of the NFL draft, including Michigan tackle Jake Long, whom the Miami Dolphins are likely to make the No. 1 overall pick.

Many teams view offensive linemen as a pick with built-in hedges that are not possible with any other position.

 

After all, if a wide receiver is struggling, there is no other position he can play to get some contribution. But if an offensive tackle is not living up to expectations, teams have the option of moving him to a more suitable position along the line.

 

“If he (Long) doesn’t become a great left tackle, if he’s not good enough, he moves to right tackle,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “There’s that fallback plan automatically for a guy like Jake. That’s why I think taking an offensive tackle high is a good thing. And it’s a safe thing. You know you’re getting a nice return on your investment. There’s not going to be a major bust at this spot.”

 

Offensive linemen rank as the second-highest paid position in the NFL, based on the average of last year’s top 10 salaries. Those linemen averaged $6.895 million, while receivers were a close third at $6.872 million. Quarterbacks ranked first at $9.5 million.

 

From 1969 to 2002, the 49ers selected only one offensive lineman in the first round, Harris Barton with the No. 22 overall selection in 1987, and he certainly provided the club with a strong return on their investment.

 

In 2003, the 49ers drafted offensive tackle Kwame Harris in the first round. Harris started 44 games in his first four NFL seasons, including 37 in a row, before the 49ers selected tackle Joe Staley in the first round last year to take his job.

 

Harris ended up signing a lucrative contract with the Raiders this offseason, proving that even an offensive lineman who lost his starting job on one team might still have value with another.

 

Many view the Raiders’ Robert Gallery as a bust. The No. 2 overall pick in 2004 has yet to show any signs of becoming the dominant left tackle the Raiders thought they were getting. Yet, in four NFL seasons, he has started 57 games. Last season, Gallery was the Raiders’ starter at left guard.

 

“Other positions, if they don’t make it at that spot, you’re done and you’ve got a bust,” Kiper said.

 

Said Barton, “There are options for a left tackle. He can move to guard, he can move to center or he can move to right tackle. It’s difficult to change positions. But any guy who’s an offensive tackle, it’s easier for him to move from left tackle or right tackle to play guard because he’s covered up on both sides.”

 

Two of the three rookies who played every snap last season were offensive linemen. Staley was one. Cleveland Browns’ left tackle Joe Thomas was the other. Thomas was named to the AFC Pro Bowl team.

 

“I thought Joe would have a residual effect on our football team and he did,” Browns general manager Phil Savage said. “I think maybe other teams will look at that. If you can fix your offensive line, some of the other players have a chance to perform. I know the addition of Joe helped a guy like Jamal Lewis, our quarterbacks, Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow.”

 

Niners general manager Scot McCloughan says offensive linemen are easier to evaluate because you know what you’re getting. They are generally “blue collar guys who are no-nonsense,” McCloughan said.

 

Barton says the college game has changed in such a way that the transition to the NFL is easier to project.

 

“They’re scouted out so well,” Barton said. “And, now, all the colleges play a pro-style offense, so those guys are taught how to pass block. That’s the key thing in football now.

 

“As an offensive lineman, you have to be able to pass block. These guys go to school and they’re taught how to pass block and they play against pretty good competition, so when they come into the league, it’s not that big of a difference.”

 

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