SANTA CLARA -- In general manager John Lynch’s first draft, the 49ers broke a streak of seven consecutive years in which the club selected at least one offensive lineman. In those seven years, the 49ers drafted 14 offensive linemen.
Instead, the 49ers turned to the veteran market to increase competition and depth along the offensive line.
“There really is a lot of competition,” 49ers offensive line coach John Benton said. “We came in trying to create it, and it’s turning out that way, regardless. We got competition going on at every spot, and at every level of the group, as well.”
The 49ers return their primary starters from last season: left tackle Joe Staley, left guard Zane Beadles, center Daniel Kilgore, right guard Joshua Garnett and right tackle Trent Brown.
Then, the 49ers added four offensive linemen with significant starting experience: center/guard Jeremy Zuttah (Tampa Bay/Baltimore), guard Brandon Fusco (Minnesota), center Tim Barnes (Rams) and tackle Garry Gilliam (Seattle).
Zuttah and Barnes are in competition with Kilgore. Zuttah, who has been held out of practices due to a lingering hamstring condition, also has significant experience at guard. The 49ers will have to ultimately determine whether the team’s line is stronger with Zuttah working at center or one of the guard spots.
“We’re going to have to do that at some point,” Benton said. “I’m not too concerned with ‘when’ at this point. Obviously, Jeremy Zuttah hasn’t been able to practice, so (we’re) maybe not getting the same rotation we were hoping to this point. But the way practice is now – without pads, without it really being ‘real football’ – we’re probably going to have to wait until training camp anyway to see that go.”
Staley is the only player along the offensive line that appears completely set as a starter. There is some level of intrigue at every other position, as Benton tries to figure out which sides of the line are the best fits for Garnett and Fusco.
“One of the things that excited us about bringing in Brandon Fusco and Tim Barnes, just to add to that (competition),” Benton said. “(They are) guys who’ve had quality careers to date and know what it takes in this league and add to the mix from a competition standpoint. It could only make us all better.
“I think it’ll be a great competition, and we’ll end up better off for it, regardless.”