Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

49ers hope versatility can help overcome O-line, D-line injuries, if necessary

Aug 21, 2020 at 5:03 PM--

Injuries are a part of the NFL, and the San Francisco 49ers have already had their share. The same thing happened last season, but a next-man-up mentality got the team through many of the losses.

Injuries have struck the offensive and defensive lines, the former more than the latter, so we'll start there. More specifically, the 49ers are currently down their top two centers and haven't even gotten out of training camp yet.

Starter Weston Richburg is likely to start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, which means missing at least the first six weeks of action. He is attempting to return from the torn patellar tendon suffered during Week 14 last year.

Richburg's backup, Ben Garland, suffered an ankle sprain this week and could be sidelined a couple of weeks.

General manager John Lynch joined KNBR on Friday morning and was asked under whom quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would put his hands this season.

"Fortunately, one of the things that we have placed an emphasis on is versatility," Lynch responded after laughing. "After you get through Richburg and Ben Garland ... gosh, COVID, it is one of those years. We bring a kid, Jake Brendel, in, who has played games, and he opted out due to medical concerns. He was fully right to. He had some medical concerns with COVID, so he took the opt-out option.

"We go get a guy, Spencer Long — great guy, great American, but he showed up a day after he came to Santa Clara and said he wasn't feeling it (and retired). And you can't make a guy want to play football. It's too hard.

"Those are guys who have played, and then, sure enough, Garland goes down. Fortunately, it's just a sprained ankle, and Ben's going to be fine ... (Newly signed) Hroniss Grasu is next in line. Danny Brunskill can play some center. We've got some guys who have some versatility, so we're going to be alright."

Then you have D.J. Jones, who has been playing the nose tackle role but went down on Thursday with a shoulder injury. The extent of the damage isn't yet known. Initial tests were inconclusive, so Jones underwent more on Friday.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh spoke with reporters on Friday and feels player versatility will also benefit the defensive line should Jones have to miss any time.

"You know, our nose, over the last couple of years, has evolved a little bit where it's not necessarily like the nose everybody remembers of the Vince Wilforks," Saleh said. "Not that he wasn't an athletic individual, but he was a massive human being where our guys are a little bit smaller. They're almost three techniques playing in that two-wide spot.

"We value a lot of speed, get off, and explosiveness over just gargantuan size. We feel really good about their ability to play in there, as long as they can hold up on double teams, and they're not just getting displaced."

Saleh pointed out that Solomon Thomas got some work there last year. He feels Kentavius Street can help out too, if needed.

Then you have rookie Javon Kinlaw, a massive presence who outweighs Jones. Saleh was asked if he could be a possibility to fill in at nose tackle.

"Yeah, the way we teach our D-line, with the exception of a couple of guys, they've got to know all four spots," Saleh responded. "(Defensive line coach Kris) Kocurek says it's like four quarters on the dollar. You throw them all out there, and they've got to be able to play whatever position that they're thrown out there to do.

"Kinlaw's getting two-I work, he's getting some three-technique work ... To answer your question, absolutely. He can go down there and play two-I also."

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