SANTA CLARA – Weston Richburg admits it has been a stressful season.
He signed a lucrative long-term contract with the 49ers on the first day of free agency. Richburg has put pressure on himself. And although the coaching staff thinks highly of him, an analytics service rates him 30th among qualifying NFL centers.
Throughout the season, the losses have taken a toll, but so has a knee injury that he has battled since Week 4.
Richburg was in pass protection against the Los Angeles Chargers early in the season. As quarterback C.J. Beathard got rid of the ball, right tackle Mike McGlinchey struggled to keep up with edge rusher Melvin Ingram. McGlinchey fell and rolled up on Richburg’s left knee.
Richburg hobbled off, but returned to the game. He was listed as “questionable” for four of the next five weeks. He missed only one game.
“I don’t feel very good,” Richburg said at his locker Friday, as the 49ers prepare for their final game of the season on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.
He said he is not sure whether he will require surgery in the offseason.
“We’ll figure out what needs to happen, but it’s been very stressful trying to play games against good talent,” Richburg said.
Richburg admits to placing a lot of pressure on himself to play up to the five-year contract worth up to $47.5 million he signed with the 49ers after four seasons with the New York Giants.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said. “You’re playing on a bigger contract. You’re playing in a new place, so you want to be perfect. The reality of it is, you’re not going to be perfect. I’m fortunate I came to a place with people like this that make it a more enjoyable experience to work. But we want to win. That’s the thing. That’s what we have to get done.”
Shanahan said Richburg's run-blocking was as good as any center he has coached early in the season. He complimented Richburg's commitment to play through a nagging knee injury. Although Richburg is among the lowest-rated centers according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system, Shanahan said he likes what he has seen.
“I know that I’m happy with him,” Shanahan said. “[That] doesn’t mean that there’s not room to grow. I think he could play better, too, especially the way he started out the year. We’ve got to find out a way to make that last throughout the whole year. I think we’ve got a very good center who is only going to get better.”
Shanahan’s offense put a lot on the plate of the team’s center. In addition to being the quarterback of the offensive line with making adjustments, there are difficult physical responsibilities that PFF has no way of recognizing, he said.
“I’m not trying to bash anyone, but there is a lot that’s not known about scheme and assignments," Shanahan said. "We’re given numbers where people who have no idea what O-line play is, judge people off numbers that they see. And, then, opinions are formulated on guys that are sometimes unfair.”
The 49ers’ offensive line appears mostly set for next season, with Richburg, tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, and left guard Laken Tomlinson returning. Right guard Mike Person is scheduled to be a free agent.
“I am excited about that because I think we’ll have a better grasp of the system,” Richburg said. “I’ll be able to understand it better after going through a whole year of games. I think we’ll be able to be a little more creative and be more player-run because we’ll have more experience in it. I am excited about that aspect of it.”