Jennifer Lee Chan

49ers' Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson building chemistry from afar

49ers' Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson building chemistry from afar

Laken Tomlinson, the man who will most closely work with recently acquired 49ers left tackle Trent Williams, couldn’t be more excited to get things rolling with his new teammate.

There has been a changing of the guard in Santa Clara. After 13 seasons with the team, 12 of which were spent holding down 49ers quarterbacks' blind side, Joe Staley announced his retirement from the NFL last month. The 49ers might not skip a beat, though, with Williams coming into the fold to provide protection for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Tomlinson, who is signed through the 2021 season, will be a huge part of making the transition with Williams as seamless as possible. He spent the last three seasons starting all but one game at left guard for the 49ers.

“I think he’s a hell of a ballplayer,” Tomlinson said of Williams on Friday. “Having someone like that being a part of the line, I think it’s going to be really, really good for us. You know he has ‘X’ amount of Pro Bowls, and I think that having that player to play the left tackle position, that’s going to be fantastic.”

Building chemistry with Willams isn't something that concerns Tomlinson. Even though team facilities remain closed, Tomlinson says the process already has begun through the team video meetings that have taken the place of normal offseason programs.

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

Tomlinson, like most players in the NFL, can't wait to get back on the field. But for now, he knows remote team meetings will have to do.

“Just getting the reps together, I’m sure that will come,” Tomlinson said. “The more that we talk to each other, the more — it’s just everything, guys having good chemistry. Having these Zoom meetings, get to see everybody’s face, talk to each other. I think that’s just where it starts.

“Started with talking with each other, being on the same page and thinking the same things. When it comes to working with somebody new, especially on the offensive line, you got to have that.”

Unlike on the defensive line, where rotation is a way of life, the offensive line thrives on consistency. Tomlinson, while he will miss Staley, knows the athleticism that Williams, a seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle, brings to the table.

[RELATED: What Tomlinson learned from Staley]

“I really can’t wait to get back on the field and get back around the guys,” Tomlinson said. “The offensive line, I think is one of the closer-knit groups for a football team, and when those guys are together all the time, it just makes the unit that much stronger.

“I’m looking forward to that. I’m sure everyone is looking forward to that as well, and we’re all excited to have Trent as part of the team.”

Fred Warner won't forget Joe Staley's 49ers influence any time soon

Fred Warner won't forget Joe Staley's 49ers influence any time soon

It could be called the "Joe Staley effect."

In the few weeks since the All-Decade left tackle announced his retirement, countless 49ers' players, coaches and staff members have spoken about what they will miss most about Staley. Every one of them started sharing their stories with huge ear-to-ear grins. 

Staley’s influence on his teammates wasn't limited to the offense, either. Linebacker Fred Warner was particularly moved by a few conversations he had with the 13-year veteran, as well as how Staley conducted himself on the field. 

“I respect Joe so much,” Warner said earlier this week. “Just the pro he is and the teammate he was, obviously he was a goofball, liked to keep it light. But at the end of the day, he came to work and played at a high level.” 

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

Staley and Warner didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time together since they played on opposite sides of the ball. They didn't face off head-to-head during practices, either.

That might be why Warner was so struck by Staley going out of his way to praise what he had seen from the young linebacker at practice. 

“There were a few conversations that me and him had,” Warner said. “We didn’t have a lot, but there was a couple where he pulled me aside and told me how much he respects my game and sees a lot of potential in me to be one of the greats.

“Comparing me to [former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis], and him playing with Patrick and seeing some of the similarities. And so that meant a lot to me, honestly. We will miss Joe a lot. It will be hard to not have him here anymore but he had the most in his career. I’m happy for him.” 

[RELATED: Could 49ers' Kinlaw follow Bosa's footsteps, win DROY?]

Willis and Staley both came into the NFL in 2007 as the 49ers' first-round picks, playing eight seasons together before Willis retired after 2014. The linebacker was First Team All-Pro five teams, and he joined Staley on the NFL's All-Decade Team.

Staley's not one to mince words or exaggerate, but his huge compliment to Warner set the young linebacker's bar even higher. Based on Staley's impact and influence on so many people in the organization over his 13-year career, that should come as no surprise.

49ers' George Kittle using robotic quarterback for offseason workouts

49ers' George Kittle using robotic quarterback for offseason workouts

All-Pro George Kittle knows very well that when your first plan doesn’t work, you pivot, adjust your focus, and find the destination through a different route.

The 49ers tight end, along with most NFL players, has had to find a way to practice during the offseason individually with team facilities being closed. Thankfully for Kittle, Monarc Sport has given him the ability to hone his receiving skills without the need of a quarterback. 

Sawyer Theisen, a longtime friend of the Kittle family and fellow Iowa alum, saw an opportunity over four years ago and set a plan in motion. The end product is the robotic quarterback that Kittle has shown himself practicing with on social media. 

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

The idea of the Seeker was born through former New England Patriots receiver Riley McCarron, back when he was a walk-on wide receiver for the Iowa Hawkeyes. He grew frustrated, unable to get enough reps in practice to fine-tune his skills. 

Theisen did a little research and discovered that the most recent patent for a throwing machine had expired some 50 years prior. 

The Seeker is not your average throwing and kicking machine. Such versatility has enticed several NCAA football programs that already have instituted its use. Oklahoma, LSU, SMU, Virginia and Iowa are among the converts. 

What differentiates the Monarc machine from a traditional JUGS machine is that it can be controlled remotely which allows a player to be able to practice alone. A location tag, worn on the hip of the player allows the machine to know exactly where to send the ball, but those features are just the tip of the iceberg. 

Videos of players working with traditional JUGS machines have been seen all too often. The player stands in a static position, not even looking at the machine, and usually catches the ball effortlessly because it has the exact same trajectory on each rep. The Monarc eliminates that predictability. 

“With our stationary gauntlet feature, that’s the video George posted, you actually have the option to set it on random so every single ball can come to a different spot within your catch radius,” Theisen told NBC Sports Bay Area. 

“From the very top of elite NFL receivers that we’ve worked with, down to high school players,  every single player has dropped the second ball on the stationary gauntlet because they are so used to checking out mentally.”

The Seeker also can help a player work on a particular skillset they are trying to master. Arc, hang time and distance are all part of the programming options for the user as a solo operator. It can help a player practice catching over the shoulder passes while running a variety of routes, high-pointing a ball or even catching a throw at the sidelines. 

“With our machine we have a touch screen on it and you’re shown a full football field,” Theisen said. “For a pass, you set the arc and the body position, and then you just use the joystick to fire.”  

Customizing punts and kicks also are easily facilitated. 

“Let’s say you want a punt to the left hash on the 45, you just literally click with your finger exactly where you want it for a punt or a kick," Theisen said. "You set the hang-time using the hang-time slider. It essentially turns anyone at the helm of the machine into an All-Pro kicker or punter.”

[RELATED: Fred Warner won't forget Joe Staley's 49ers influence any time soon]

The Monarc product can also throw, kick and punt both left and right-handed or footed. Often an NFL team will sign a lefty kicker for game preparation if that’s what they are facing in the upcoming week. Upping reps for returners is readily available with the use of the Seeker. 

Theisen describes the 250-pound throwing unit as easily portable, having driven it across the country for Kittle to test in San Jose. The 49ers tight end liked the concept so much that he invested in the company along with 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard and New England wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. 

What had looked like a challenging spring season with college facilities shuttered due to the global pandemic, Thiesen and his three co-founders found a way to pivot. Now with a focus on the need of NFL players to get reps in alone during the offseason, interest in their product has increased dramatically. 

Kittle has found his offseason stand-in for Jimmy Garoppolo and just like the quarterback, the machine won't be texting him back either.