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How 49ers' offensive line depth looks after recent veteran additions

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How 49ers' offensive line depth looks after recent veteran additions

When the 49ers signed veteran guard Mike Person to a three-year contract extension a week before the start of the free-agent signing period, the club seemingly filled a draft need long before the draft.

The 49ers, it appeared, already had their starting offensive line for the 2019 season:
Left tackle – Joe Staley
Left guard – Laken Tomlinson
Center – Weston Richburg
Right guard – Mike Person
Right tackle – Mike McGlinchey

The 49ers kept nine offensive linemen on their 53-man roster last season. Seven of those players were among the 46 individuals allowed to suit up for regular-season games. The 49ers kept two other offensive linemen stashed away on the practice squad.

Currently, the 49ers have 11 players competing for those coveted backup spots after the additions the past two days of veteran center Wesley Johnson and guard Willie Beavers.

Here is a breakdown of the 49ers’ backup situation on the offensive line:

Returning backups

Joshua Garnett, guard – Former GM Trent Baalke traded up into the back end of the first round to select Garnett in the 2016 draft. Garnett started 11 games as a rookie with mixed results. He spent 2017 on injured reserve with a knee injury. Garnett (6-5, 305) appeared in seven games last year with no starts. The 49ers, as expected, declined the fifth-year option for the 2020 season. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Garnett could challenge Person for a starting job. He could also be dealt for a late-round draft pick, if that possibility arises.

Shon Coleman, tackle – The 49ers acquired Coleman just prior to the start of the 2018 regular season in a trade with Cleveland for a seventh-round draft pick. Coleman, a third-round draft pick in 2016, started all 16 games for the Browns in 2017. Coleman (6-foot-5, 310 pounds) was inactive for all 16 games last season with the 49ers, as Garry Gilliam served as the swing tackle behind Staley and McGlinchey. The 49ers cut Gilliam after the season, so Coleman now has the inside track as the team's primary backup at the tackle spots.

Erik Magnuson, center/guard – Magnuson won a roster spot as an undrafted rookie from Michigan in 2017. He has the versatility to play anywhere on the line, which a valuable commodity during the regular season. He started two games at tackle as a rookie, but was lost to a season-ending foot injury. Magnuson (6-4, 305) made one start at center last season, but never got into another game the rest of the season after a critical error on a bad snap late in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Veteran additions

Ben Garland, guard – He was a backup in 2016 with the Atlanta Falcons while Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator. Garland, 31, can play either of the guard spots and is a good run blocker. Garland (6-5, 308) appeared in 30 games the past two seasons in Atlanta with seven starts. The 49ers signed Garland shortly before the draft.

Wesley Johnson, center – Richburg underwent extensive surgery on his left knee and quadriceps early in the offseason. The 49ers hope Richburg will be ready for the start of training camp. Johnson, 28, has bounced around in his five-year career. In 2015 and ’16, he appeared in 31 games with 23 starts for the New York Jets. Last year, the Detroit Lions released Johnson (6-5, 309) before the start of the regular season. He hooked on with Miami in October as a backup after former 49ers center Daniel Kilgore sustained a season-ending torn triceps. He appeared in 10 games last season with no starts. The 49ers signed him this week to a one-year contract.

Willie Beavers, guard – The Chicago Bears waived Beavers (6-5, 324) as part of the moves to clear space for undrafted rookies. The 49ers on Monday claimed him. Beavers, 25, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2016. He appeared in two games as a rookie, but has never again appeared in an NFL regular-season game.

Daniel Brunskill, tackle – After spending the past two seasons on the Falcons’ practice squad, Brunskill (6-5, 260) started eight games at tackle for the San Diego Fleet of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football. The 49ers signed him last month, shortly after the AAF folded. He entered the NFL in 2017 as an undrafted rookie. He played his first three seasons at San Diego State as a tight end before converting to the offensive line as a senior. He has a lot of room to put on weight and get stronger.

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Rookie additions

Justin Skule, tackle – The 49ers invested a sixth-round pick in Skule, who was a durable, effective player during his time at Vanderbilt. He concluded his college career with 40 consecutive starts. Skule (6-6, 318) allowed just one sack last season in 473 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. That sack allowed came against national leader Josh Allen of Kentucky. Allen was the No. 7 overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Ross Reynolds, guard – He started just one season at Iowa and signed with the 49ers as an undrafted rookie. He was a second-team All-Big Ten selection. Reynolds (6-4, 295) went up against first-round draft pick Jeffrey Simmons of Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl. They were not matched up against each other often, but Simmons recorded a sack against Reynolds, who could also get practice time at center.

Practice squad

Najee Toran, guard – After joining the 49ers as an undrafted rookie from UCLA, he spent three weeks on the 53-man roster. He was active for one of those games but did not play. Toran (6-2, 305) began and finished the season on the 49ers’ practice squad.

Christian DiLauro, tackle – DiLauro signed with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted rookie last year from Illinois, where he had a streak of 31 consecutive starts. DiLauro (6-6, 300) spent the final 13 weeks of the season on the 49ers’ practice squad.

How 49ers' depth is affected by Shon Coleman, Travis Benjamin opt outs

How 49ers' depth is affected by Shon Coleman, Travis Benjamin opt outs

The 49ers acquired offensive tackle Shon Coleman in a trade prior to the 2018 season as insurance.

He was not needed in his first season as he learned the system, spent last year on injured reserve and will not be available in 2020 after opting at the Thursday deadline due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Coleman is a cancer survivor.

Speedy slot receiver and return man Travis Benjamin was signed in the offseason to compete with Trent Taylor and Richie James. But he will not take part in that battle for playing time or a roster spot. He opted out early in the week.

In all, three 49ers decided to opt-out of the upcoming season as part of a league-wide group of 69 players.

Offensive lineman Jake Brendel, who was in camp with the 49ers, became the third member of the organization to opt out. He appeared in 21 games with the Miami Dolphins from 2016 to ’18. Brendel entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie with the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. He spent time with Denver and Baltimore but did not get into a regular-season game.

Brendel was a long-shot to make the team. But he could have remained on the team’s list as an emergency fill-in for later in the season.

And while neither Coleman nor Benjamin was not assured of making the team’s 53-man roster out of training camp, it does not take much of an imagination to envision a scenario in which either or both could have been counted on to fill big roles.

The 49ers will retain the contracts rights for Coleman, Benjamin and Brendel for 2021.

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

Coleman entered camp a year ago as the favorite to be the team’s swing offensive tackle -- the game-day backup to then-left tackle Joe Staley and right tackle Mike McGlinchey. The 49ers had to scramble after Coleman sustained a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle in the team’s first preseason game.

Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill served as the backup tackles and both did commendable jobs under the circumstances. This year, the 49ers added West Virginia offensive lineman Colton McKivitz in the fifth round of the draft.

Brunskill will compete for the starting job at right guard with veteran Tom Compton and McKivitz. The losers of that competition, along with Skule, will be in play to serve in the backup role for which Coleman would have been competing.

Coleman's decision couldn't have been viewed as a surprise. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia as a senior in high school in 2010, approximately six weeks after signing his letter of intent to play at Auburn. He redshirted as a college freshman in 2011 and returned to practice on a limited basis in 2012. He started at left tackle for Auburn in 2014 and ’15.

The Cleveland Browns selected Coleman in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He saw action in seven games with the Browns as a rookie before starting all 16 games in 2017 at right tackle.

Benjamin wrote in a statement that opting out was “the best decision for my family.” He would have been reunited with coach Kyle Shanahan, who was his offensive coordinator in 2014 with the Browns.

The receiver has battled injuries in recent seasons. Benjamin had just 18 receptions for 216 yards and one touchdown in 17 games over the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers. The best season of his eight-year NFL career came in 2015 with Cleveland when he caught 68 passes for 966 yards and five touchdowns.

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The 49ers have high hopes for slot receiver Trent Taylor, who was expected to be a top contributor the past two years. A back injury limited him in 2018 and a fractured foot and five subsequent procedures wiped out his 2019 season.

If Taylor remains healthy, the impact of losing Benjamin should be softened.

But, like missing Coleman along the offensive line, the 49ers have less depth at wide receiver at the start of an uncertain training camp and season without Benjamin on the team.

Joe Montana reflects on 49ers' Dwight Clark as the 'ultimate teammate'

Joe Montana reflects on 49ers' Dwight Clark as the 'ultimate teammate'

Editor's Note: Joe Montana wrote an essay about his long-time friend and 49ers teammate Dwight Clark for the book, “Letters to 87,” which has raised money for the Golden Heart Fund. Clark passed away on June 4, 2018, after a two-year battle with ALS. The 49ers celebrate the legacy of Clark, whose No. 87 is retired, annually on Aug. 7 or 8/7. Montana’s essay is reprinted here with permission from Cameron Books.

We didn’t think about it in the moment. We didn’t realize how important it was at the time. All we knew was that we were going to the Super Bowl.

At that point, we were looking forward to going to our first Super Bowl. We weren’t looking back. But after the season was over, and we won Super Bowl XVI, people started talking about The Catch and how important it was to get us past the Cowboys.

What everyone loved about Dwight was his personality. Even if he had not caught that pass, his personality would not have changed. He was the same jovial guy before The Catch as he was after.

We came to the 49ers together in the 1979 draft. Dwight was an easy guy to like. We spent a lot of time working together before and after practice. The bond kept building that way, as we laughed and joked with each other.

We lived together in the beginning and ended up getting a place in Hayward on C Street. It was the only place we could afford. We drove back and forth every day across the Bay to practice in Redwood City. After practice our car just automatically went straight to Wendy’s. We ate together and did everything together.

To a certain degree, we built chemistry on the field. But he was the kind of receiver that was perfect for any quarterback. He was a big target and could read defenses well. We had a lot of adjustments in that offense that had to be made after the play started. I knew where he was going to be. As a quarterback, you need people you can trust to be on the same page. If he and I weren’t on the same page 100 percent of the time, we were 99.9 percent of the time. And when things broke down, he was always looking for me. He would come back and try to help in any way he could.

DC was the ultimate teammate. This is a guy who played in college across from Jerry Butler, one of the top receivers in the nation at the time. Dwight never said a word. Then, after we won a couple of Super Bowls, here comes John Taylor and Jerry Rice. That was a difficult transition from where he had been. He always put the team first. I’m sure one of the first things that came to his mind was, “It feels like I’m back at Clemson, playing behind an All-American.” But if he thought it, he did not say anything -- not even to me.

Dwight’s place in 49ers history was secure after making The Catch. On that play against the Cowboys, we had never thrown the ball to Dwight. It was basically his job to set a screen for Freddie Solomon, the inside receiver. But Freddie slipped and fell. Dwight had to get to the end line and come across the back side. For me, it was just a matter of buying time until he got to where he needed to be.

He had good position on the defensive back Everson Walls, so I let the ball go. I thought it was arm’s length above his head. I didn’t know it was that high. I got knocked down and never saw it. But when he made The Catch, I heard the crowd roar. I thought, “Okay, touchdown, we scored.” I did not realize until later how great of a play it was.

As the years moved on, Dwight totally understood how important that play was to all 49er fans, players, and everyone associated with the team. It was great for him. It was something that enabled him to connect with fans on a personal level. He could look back on that play with great pride. It was a wonderful memory to be a part of something so important, not only in 49er history but NFL history.

Every time you see something on memorable and important moments in NFL history, that play gets shown.

But Dwight also realized that it took the entire team. If Eric Wright does not make that tackle, and if Lawrence Pillers does not force that fumble, that play does not mean anything. Dwight never lost sight of that.

On Oct. 21, 2018, the 49ers unveiled statues of Dwight and me outside of Levi’s Stadium that depict The Catch. Sadly, my old friend was not around to take part in the ceremony.

He would have loved it. He would have been the ultimate kid, acting like a typical hard-core 49ers fan. That would have been Dwight. He would have had the best time in front of that statue, just soaking up the moment.

Seeing the statues for the first time was a humbling experience. You realize the importance of the moment that will always connect us.

* * * 

NBC Sports Bay Area will re-air the documentary “Letters to 87” on Friday at 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Steve Young, Keena Turner, Mike Wilson and Jeff Clark, Dwight’s brother, will join Matt Maiocco at 2 p.m. on Friday to discuss D.C.’s legacy on a video conference. Click here at 2 p.m. to join.