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49ers once again turn to Brunskill due to center shortage

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SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers have experienced an alarming depletion of centers through the team’s first four practices of training camp.

Ben Garland, who started six games last season, sustained an ankle injury in practice Tuesday. The team reported no update on his status. The 49ers have a day off Wednesday before returning to their Santa Clara practice field Thursday.

Previously, the 49ers lost potential backup centers Spencer Long and Jake Brendel to retirement and a COVID-19 opt-out, respectively.

Moreover, the 49ers do not expect to have starter Weston Richburg for at least the first six games of the regular season as he continues to rehab from a torn patellar tendon in his knee. Richburg is on the physically-unable-to-perform list, where he likely is to remain for the start of the regular season.

Anytime the 49ers got in a bind on the offensive line last season, they turned to Daniel Brunskill to bail them out.

They now are counting on Brunskill once again.

The 49ers have been giving Brunskill plenty of work at center while he also competes against veteran Tom Compton for the starting job at right guard. Brunskill started seven games last season at three different positions -- right tackle, left tackle and right guard. He saw practice time a year ago at center, too.

Brunskill said he is more advanced at center this summer, whereas a year ago it took most of his concentration just to make sure his snaps were on point.

“This year, I’m focusing on technique a lot more and things I can improve that way while also trying to be perfect with the snaps,” Brunskill said this week.

 

Brunskill said he is gaining more confidence in identifying defensive fronts and making the necessary line adjustments at center.

“Now when I’m at guard it’s easier because I already know all the spots and I can know where everything’s going and it makes me ID what I need to do a lot faster,” he said.

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The 49ers were in the market for an experienced center even before knowing how long Garland will be sidelined.

Hroniss Grasu, who started 13 of the 18 games in which he appeared over the past four seasons with Chicago and Baltimore, is among a group of free agents who have gone through COVID-19 testing with the 49ers since Monday.

Grasu is eligible to practice as early as Thursday if he passes three days of testing and signs with the 49ers.

The 49ers could sign and have any of the visiting free agents on the practice field in time for the next practice. The group includes wide receiver Jaron Brown, linebacker Kemal Ishmael, safety Johnathan Cyprien; and undrafted rookies, linebacker Gabe Sewell (Nevada), defensive backs Evan Foster (Syracuse) and Ronnell Perkins (Missouri).