Coach Kyle Shanahan expressed confidence left guard Aaron Banks and the other inexperienced interior players on the 49ers’ offensive line will get to a place where they can become reliable contributors.
But after three preseason games, there are legitimate concerns the group will be able to perform the job up to specifications by the time the season opens on Sept. 11, against the Chicago Bears.
Banks was a second-round pick of the 49ers in the 2021 NFL Draft. He played just five offensive snaps as a rookie and was next in line this season to become a starter when veteran Laken Tomlinson signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the New York Jets.
Banks took every first-team snap at left guard during the three preseason games and the vast majority of training camp. Banks has graded out among the bottom of 49ers’ offensive linemen, according to Pro Football Focus.
Even he recognizes there are plenty of elements to his game that need to be tightened up before he is ready for the big time.
“There are a bunch of growing pains that happen,” Banks told NBC Sports Bay Area following the 49ers’ 17-0 loss to the Houston Texans in the preseason finale on Thursday.
Banks said it is a continuous struggle to hone his technical skills and understanding of the playbook and defenses while being flexible enough to adapt to new challenges he faces in front of him.
“You come in and you might be good at something, and in two weeks that might start to become a rough patch,” Banks said. “You never have it. It’s a constant game on the O-line play of adapting and changing things. Once you think you’re good at something, somebody is going to come up with something else that combats that.
“So I think it’s just a constant evolution of the game, and I’m trying to sharpen my tools.”
Shanahan said he believes Banks showed improvement against Houston after some uneven practices and game performance the previous week against the Minnesota Vikings. Shanahan said there was plenty of blame to go around, from the protection to the quarterbacks not getting rid of the ball on time.
“I know there were definitely a couple that he missed,” Shanahan said of Banks’ performance against the Texans. “But I also thought it was a full offense. As a whole, it wasn’t good enough.”
The 49ers appear to be in the market to add to their depth or competition at the guard positions as the regular season approaches. Seven-year veteran guard John Miller visited the 49ers, ESPN reported. Miller has 84 career starts.
Rookie Spencer Burford has been the team’s first-team right guard, alongside center Jake Brendel, who served as Alex Mack’s backup last season. Mack retired in the offseason. Brendel, 29, has three career starts.
Daniel Brunskill, who has started every game the past two seasons for the 49ers, has experience at right guard and center. He remains out of action with a hamstring injury he sustained in the team’s exhibition opener on Aug. 12 against Green Bay.
“I do believe that the more they play, the better they'll get, because they're made of the right stuff and they have the ability to do it, but it does take time in this league,” Shanahan said. “And we got a couple guys doing that right now that are showing up a lot, but they'll get there.”
Banks said it’s a matter of focusing on the small picture and not putting too much on his plate at any given time.
“It’s really just taking it day by day and trying to fix things one step at a time,” he said. “You can’t fix everything at once. But if you fix one thing, once you got that down, you pick something else.
“It’s not going to come in one day, but you just have to steadily grind to be a better player.”