Finding the right pieces for 49ers' offensive line


Finding the right pieces for 49ers' offensive line

Editor's Note: Here is the second installment of a five-part series on the organization’s top offseason priorities.

The 49ers have drafted at least one offensive lineman six years in a row. Five of those years they grabbed two.

Again, the 49ers figure to be on the lookout for linemen this offseason.

It’s even possible they could add a player who started every game for four consecutive seasons before he was limited to just seven starts in an injury-plagued 2014.

Anthony Davis has “guaranteed” an attempted comeback in 2016 after stepping away from the NFL last year to allow his mind and body a chance to heal. But if and how he fits into the Kelly’s zone scheme is a big question.

[MAIOCCO: 49ers face offseason decisions with secondary]

Davis has yet to file for reinstatement off the NFL’s reserve/retired list. There is no timetable for his return, according to a source close to Davis. And even when/if it does happen, it’s difficult to believe the 49ers’ offseason plan will be altered in the least. The 49ers cannot assume Davis will re-emerge as the same player they had in his prime.

Joe Staley is set at left tackle. Daniel Kilgore looks like the man at center. Andrew Tiller, Marcus Martin, Erik Pears and Brandon Thomas are set up to compete for the guard positions. However, Thomas did not show the ability to move well enough last year to make any impact in a zone scheme. He did not even earn his way onto the field last season.

Alex Boone started 13 games at left guard but does not figure to return in 2016. He is set to hit the open market. If the 49ers had designs on keeping him, they could have signed him to an extension at any point in the past two years.

Tiller, who took over for struggling Jordan Devey in the middle of the season, looks like a favorite to join Staley and Kilgore in the starting lineup. That would leave spots to fill at one guard position and right tackle.

Davis and Trenton Brown are the most likely options at right tackle. Brown showed some promise late in the season, but he is still very raw. Pears started 14 games at right tackle last year. If he holds onto a roster spot, it'll likely be as a guard or backup tackle.

It’s unlikely the 49ers can find a starting caliber lineman in free agency. Good offensive linemen are rarely available on the open market. At any point in the draft, an offensive lineman should interest the 49ers.

Obviously, the 49ers need better production from their line. Carlos Hyde averaged 4.1 yards a carry before he was sidelined by a stress fracture in his foot. For the entire season, the 49ers averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt.

In eight starts apiece, Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert were sacked 28 and 25 times, respectively. Philadelphia’s quarterbacks last season under Kelly were sacked 16 fewer times over the season.

It does not matter who starts at quarterback next season. Unless the offensive line provides a cleaner pocket, Kelly's short-passing game will never have a chance to take flight.

Trent Williams chose 49ers partly due to Nick Bosa, defensive line

Trent Williams chose 49ers partly due to Nick Bosa, defensive line

The 49ers' defensive line is the strength of the team. Not just for the chaos it creates, but also for the players it helps attract.

Last season, San Francisco allowed the fewest passing yards per game (169.2) and tied for the fifth-most sacks (48) in the NFL. Anyone who watched the 49ers' defensive line quickly realized it was one of the elite units in the league.

That included new 49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams, who sat out all of last season amid a dispute with Washington. That gave Williams plenty of time to study up on the top D-lines in the league, which ultimately influenced which teams he would be open to joining. After so much time away from game action, he knew he needed to go up against the best of the best.

"Oh man, I'm looking forward to it," Williams told NFL Media's Ian Rapoport on the "RapSheet and Friends" podcast. "When I looked for a team to go to, I looked at the opposite side of the ball to see who can I sharpen my iron on every day in practice because when I get out there on the field, I can't come up with a rust excuse. All that to me doesn't exist. So, I would rather be rusty in practice and be able to sharpen my iron then than to try to do it Monday night with all the cameras on me. 

" ... The defense is probably the best in the league. When you think about defensive lines that get after the quarterback, I think anybody with a pulse is going to throw the 49ers' front out there within the first, second or third groups to mention. So, that in itself excites me as a competitor, because I know I can get some of the best work done during the week. On Sundays, you're not going to see too many guys better than that group. Especially not any individuals that much better than [Nick] Bosa. I think they just don't have that many guys in the league that are better than him. So, I think for me, it's going to do everything for me to get me back to where I know I can be at."

[RELATED: Williams explains why 49ers were his ideal trade option]

When the 49ers' top offensive and defensive units go up against each other in practice, the expectation is that Williams and Bosa will be matched up head-to-head. That should make for quite the individual battle, and likely will only serve to make each player better.

Given that one has made the Pro Bowl seven times and the other is the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, that should be a terrifying thought for most other linemen in the league -- on both sides of the ball.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Eric Reid calls out 49ers' messaging on Black Lives Matter tweet

Eric Reid calls out 49ers' messaging on Black Lives Matter tweet

Eric Reid sent a strong statement to the 49ers tweeting "Black Lives Matter" and #BlackoutTuesday. The former 49ers safety responded with "I think you meant Blackball Tuesday" and called the organization hypocrites. 

Reid joined Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the playing of the national anthem as a form of a peaceful protest against racial and social injustices, including police brutality, throughout the 2016 season when both players were part of the 49ers. Kaepernick has not been signed by an NFL team since opting out of his 49ers contract ahead of the 2017 offseason.

General manager John Lynch admitted in May 2017 the 49ers told Kaepernick they would have released him if he didn't opt out of his contract.

The quarterback alleged NFL owners conspired to keep him out of the league because of his protest, but Kaepernick ultimately settled a collusion lawsuit with the NFL last year. Reid clearly agrees with Kaepernick's beliefs regarding the league "blackballing" him due to his protests. 

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

CEO Jed York announced Saturday night the 49ers will be donating $1 million to local and national organizations committed to social change. York exlained why Monday, and even said, "We need to continue work that Colin drew attention to four years ago in 2016, and we need to continue to let our players, first and foremost, know they have a voice to be able to speak out" in an interview with the NFL Network's Jim Trotter.

After former 49ers receiver Torrey Smith praised York Saturday, Reid, who was teammates with Smith on the Carolina Panthers in 2018, expressed he had very different opinions and experiences with York than Smith did. 

[RELATED: Jackson insists 'fake' NFL should apologize to Kaepernick]

Reid continued to kneel in 2017 with the 49ers and the team opted not to re-sign him in free agency. The Carolina Panthers signed him to a one-year contract on Sept. 27, 2018, weeks into the 2018 season. 

The former 49ers first-round draft pick recorded 130 tackles and four sacks last season with the Panthers. He signed a three-year contract extension with Carolina in February 2019 and was cut one year later in March 2020.