Editor’s note: Insider Matt Maiocco will analyze each position group leading up to 49ers training camp. The full squad reports on July 30 with the first practice scheduled for July 31. This installment focuses on the offensive line.

The 49ers were not prepared for Anthony Davis absence a year ago. And it definitely showed.

Davis’ surprise announcement in June forced the 49ers to move veteran Erik Pears from guard, where they figured to have him line up, to right tackle. Pears struggled mightily. According to Pro Football Focus, Pears surrendered team-worsts of 10 sacks and 37 quarterback hurries.

Davis on Monday announced he has submitted his paperwork for reinstatement off the league’s reserve/retired list after sitting out one full season. However, the last time Davis played, he was often injured and not productive. Still, at 26, if he is fully committed to a return, there’s no reason why he can’t reclaim his starting job.

[NEWS: Anthony Davis applies for reinstatement]

Aside from five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, the 49ers’ best offensive lineman last year was guard Andrew Tiller. But he would appear to be hard-pressed to maintain his job as a starter after the selection of Joshua Garnett in the first round and the free-agent addition of Zane Beadles.

Top options
--LT Joe Staley
--G Joshua Garnett
--C Daniel Kilgore
--RT Anthony Davis
--G Zane Beadles
--G/T Erik Pears
--T Trent Brown
--G Andrew Tiller
--G/C Marcus Martin

 

Next up
--G Brandon Thomas
--G Ian Silberman
--T John Theus
--G/T Fahn Cooper
--T Colin Kelly
--C Alex Balducci
--T Norman Price

[RELATED: Undrafted rookie Balducci switching positions, impressing 49ers]

Who is Davis’ biggest obstacle to regaining his old job?
The answer is simple: The only person who can stop Davis from returning to the playing field and winning back the starting job at right tackle is himself.

Recent draft picks Brown and Theus are promising, but it’s unlikely either would be able to compete against Davis ... if Davis is fit and mentally ready to perform like he did a couple of years ago.

Is the offensive line improved from a year ago?
This unit should be better -- just because the group was so young last year and those players, theoretically, should make improvements due the experience gained with on-the-job training.

Kilgore is healthy and ready to open the season at center, and that should give the offensive line a boost. The 49ers could be better at every position with the possible exception of left tackle. But even though Staley is 31 and entering his 10th NFL season, he said he believes Chip Kelly’s system highlights his best strengths as a lineman.

If you’re looking to judge general manager Trent Baalke this season, pay particular attention to the offensive line and cornerback situations. Those are the spots where he has invested a lot of draft picks in recent years. If the offensive line, indeed, does improve with some of the young players making significant strides, that could be huge for Baalke’s future with the organization.

Why hasn’t Garnett signed his rookie contract?
While the dollars in his contract are non-negotiable, the guarantees are not. According to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, the top 19 draft picks received fully guaranteed four-year contracts. Garnett, one of just three unsigned first-round draft picks, was chosen with the No. 28 overall selection. The holdup at this point could be the negotiations over how much of his total four-year salary is guaranteed. In any case, do not expect the situation to interfere with Garnett reporting to camp on time and begin his competition for a starting job.