While training camp battles for backup positions aren't always that exciting, the San Francisco 49ers' pending camp battle between offensive linemen Shon Coleman and Justin Skule for a swing tackle role is of notable importance.


If you were to ask fans which San Francisco 49ers backup training camp battle they wanted to watch, most would probably answer the bout for the No. 2 quarterback job behind Jimmy Garoppolo, poised to feature C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens.

But another, less-heralded camp battle for 2019 features two scantly discussed players, offensive tackles Shon Coleman and Justin Skule.

The Niners acquired Coleman via a trade with the Cleveland Browns early in 2018. Coleman, who started all 16 games for the Browns the previous year, spent each week in San Francisco on the weekly inactive list, as the 49ers' swing tackle role fell on the shoulders of offensive lineman Garry Gilliam. With Gilliam gone, Coleman appeared to be a shoo-in to earn this primary backup spot behind starting tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey.

Yet that was before San Francisco added former Vanderbilt offensive lineman Justin Skule in Round 6 of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Skule, who was never polished nor smooth in college, nevertheless held his own in an SEC conference featuring solid pass-rushers. And he also has a good fit within head coach Kyle Shanahan's zone-style blocking scheme.

"I felt like he won at a high rate," 49ers general manager John Lynch told reporters last May. "It wasn't always beautiful, pretty, but just kind of a scrapper who at the end of the play was on his guy and won his leverage at a very high rate.

"When you find those guys, you look at the level of competition. Well, his level of competition was as good as it gets in college football. Sometimes it's not always how pretty it looks, it's 'are you getting the job done?'"

Shanahan also told the media it was his plan to have Skule compete with Coleman for the swing tackle job in 2019.

"[I want to] just show the coaches and everyone in person that I can play at that high level," Skule said after being drafted. "Just show my versatility and play wherever they want me to play, and in whatever way I can help the team."

Whether or not that will be enough to overtake Coleman on the depth chart is something ultimately to be determined in training camp. Yet this unheralded role doesn't lack for importance.

Last year, San Francisco was fortunate with its starting-tackle health. Both Staley and McGlinchey managed to start all 16 games, and neither dealt with any serious injury. But with Staley getting up there in age -- he'll turn 35 years old before the regular season begins -- and McGlinchey still developing, the need for a reliable insurance policy behind the two can't be understated.

So, while many will focus on the backup quarterback camp battle, they should also take note of what happens between Skule and Coleman later this summer, too.
  • Peter Panacy
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    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.