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49ers’ O-line coach considers Joshua Garnett a ‘legitimate’ contender for a starting job

Jun 17, 2019 at 10:28 AM--

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ESPN just named guard Joshua Garnett as a San Francisco 49ers veteran who could be cut before the start of the season. Should that happen, most would view his selection as a first-round pick in 2016 as a significant blunder by the team.

A mistake from 2016 is not really the current regime's concern since that was a different general manager calling the shots. However, it is an unfortunate look considering the team has already moved on from one of its first-round selections the next year, linebacker Reuben Foster. The other, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, has yet to develop into the player the 49ers hoped for when the team made him its No. 3 overall pick.

49ers offensive line coach John Benton is confident that Garnett, despite an injury history, is a legitimate contender for a starting guard job.

"Josh is a legitimate, 100 percent contender," Benton recently told David Lombardi of The Athletic. "He'll get every opportunity again. He's just had such bad luck with injury. None have been too serious, but they last a legitimate amount of time."

Garnett has something to prove as he enters the final year of his four-year rookie contract. The 49ers opted against picking up his fifth-year option so 2019 — maybe even this offseason — is a make-or-break situation for the offensive lineman.

Garnett started 11 games during his rookie year in 2016 but then missed all of 2017 after landing on injured reserve with a knee injury just before the start of the season. He played in just 59 offensive snaps last season.

"Josh has had a good offseason this year, and he'll be given every opportunity to win a job there," Benton continued.

Garnett will need to beat out Mike Person, and he had an opportunity to prove himself during the 49ers' offseason program. Person was receiving snaps at center with Weston Richburg sidelined until at least training camp; possibly longer. Garnett filled in at right guard with the first-team offense.

The coaching staff, including Benton, feels Garnett is talented. He's just had trouble staying healthy. Garnett started to impress during last year's preseason games, but he dislocated his toe during Week 1 of the regular season and, once healthy, was never able to pry the job away from Person.

While Garnett showed flashes as a run-blocker during the preseason last year, he really shined in his pass blocking during the regular season, according to Pro Football Focus. While the analytics site's grades should be used as an added metric and never a complete analysis of a player's on-field play — especially an offensive lineman — Garnett's pass-blocking grade was on par with both Person and Laken Tomlinson.

"He's a talented guy, and it's a shame he's had to battle through these hardships," Benton added. "He's one of our most explosive guys, along with the athleticism, so I would love to see Josh put together a string and make a run at winning one of those jobs."

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