Joe Staley is the most decorated and longest-tenured player on the 49ers offense. He is also quite easily the most candid source of information. He's been around long enough to see five coaching staffs, and he's honest enough to give his assessment of the team. On Wednesday at Kezar, Staley made several comments to Eric Branch and I before the rest of the media contingent caught up with him. When asked about this year's offensive line, He felt the need to first go back and address last year's line. Staley stated point-blank, "the line was terrible last year, and I think the line's gonna be ten times better this year." Without prompting, he elaborated, "everyone knows, what we did last year sucked, and we can't put that on the field and expect to be any kind of football team. So everybody's really working towards that."
He moved quickly on to this year's squad before I could ask him to explain what "sucked" about last year: was he simply acknowledging the poor overall performance of the unit? That's a likely answer, as Staley has never been one to make a passive-aggressive statement. On November 2nd, 2014, after a loss to the Rams, Staley had no issues getting specific, blaming "penalties, dumb blocks, dumb techniques, and dumb scheme."
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Could he have been taking a dig at 2015 Offensive Line Coach Chris Foerster (Foerster had coached Staley on two separate occasions in his career as a 49er)? Oddly enough, Staley didn't seem to place much weight on the difference in approaches to coaching the offensive line when he was answering questions about the new (and highly-regarded) coach of the unit, Pat Flaherty, stating, "It's been good so far… just working. It's the same sh…, it's the same stuff."
Was he lamenting the talent (specifically on the right side), when he stated "we can't put that on the field"? He clued that response in a bit as he continued to express optimism for the offensive line in 2016, immediately stating, "We've got a lot more pieces and more talent here." No one can debate that the largest obstacle that the 49ers offensive line had to overcome in 2015 was poor personnel on the right side. Jordan Devey and Erik Pears were consistently and completely overmatched. Marcus Martin was inconsistent in his line calls and frequently lost ground quickly at the point of attack. Alex Boone was inconsistent. Having Daniel Kilgore back healthy to join the additions of Joshua Garnett, Zane Beadles, and Anthony Davis provides a massive upgrade in talent, as does the continued improvement of Trent Brown and Andrew Tiller. There were times last year when Staley appeared to be the only starter on the 49ers offensive line that deserved a starting role. On Wednesday he was all smiles, as Staley, Beadles, Kilgore, Tiller, Brown, Garnett, and Davis all appeared to be playing at the expected level of an NFL starter.
The 49ers aren't resting on the hope provided by their improved talent. Staley reiterated his point from day one of training camp that success as a unit won't simply happen on its own, stating flatly, "We have to work. We have to earn it." He then offered assurance that the required work was getting done. "We're very hungry to work," he explained, acknowledging that everyone in the unit knew that improvement was necessary, and that the meeting room was united in their efforts to improve. "I like the attitude to come to work every day to get better."