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Main concern for 49ers heading into training camp

Jul 25, 2022 at 9:00 AM

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The San Francisco 49ers are entering the 2022 season with aspirations of winning the NFC West. To some, this might seem unattainable with a relatively inexperienced starting quarterback playing in the same division as the reigning Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, who enter the season as the betting favorites, but the 49ers shouldn't be considered far behind.

Despite having a plethora of success head-to-head against the Rams in recent years, Los Angeles won the most important meeting, the last one, in the 2021 NFC Championship game. After the two teams exchanged body blows for three-plus quarters in that contest, the Rams exploited an area of weakness along the 49ers offensive line with Aaron Donald—possibly the best interior defensive lineman of all-time.

That brings me to the main concern I have heading into the 2022 regular season. Over the summer, the 49ers lost starting center Alex Mack to retirement. Mack, in his prime, had been one of the best players at his position and became a reliable veteran last season, earning an overall grade of 70.4 courtesy of Pro Football Focus (PFF). That impressive grade included a pass-blocking mark of 75.6 over 1,088 offensive snaps. Unfortunately, for the 49ers, Mack is one and done with the organization.

With Alex Mack hanging up his cleats for the final time, the San Francisco 49ers will look to relative unknown Jake Brendel to fill the void.

According to Matt Barrows of The Athletic, Jake Brendel is the favorite to win the starting center job to begin the season. Daniel Brunskill is a versatile offensive lineman who spent time at center in his career but played exclusively at right guard last season. Brunskill is expected to start at right guard, along with Aaron Banks at left guard to begin the year. So, are you comfortable with the combination of the unproven Banks/Brendel or Brendel/Brunskill to block up Donald? This is an area where the organization could stand to explore all their options this summer if one of the three falters during training camp and the preseason. Banks looked overmatched last season throughout training camp, but hopefully he's ready to live up to his draft position. The 49ers spent a second-round selection on the Notre Dame product in 2021.

Brendel has only played 250 NFL snaps over his career, which began in 2016. However, the 29-year-old has one thing in his favor—he will be looking to impress a familiar face this summer in offensive line coach and run game coordinator Chris Foerster. Foerster and Brendel crossed paths during their time in Miami.

One benefit of Brendel stepping in with the first crack to win the vacant starting center role is his familiarity with second-year signal-caller Trey Lance. Lance and Brendel worked exclusively together with the second group last season. If Brendel wins the job, it will also help smooth Lance's transition to becoming the starting quarterback.

Lance had this to say about the situation;

"I got to spend a lot of time with Jake," said Lance. "Obviously, I took all my reps pretty much with Jake and Jimmy [Garoppolo] was with Alex [Mack] last year. Obviously sad, I wanted to play with Alex for sure, but I'm super excited for Jake. Jake's three lockers down from me. We're together, one of the first two guys in every morning, Jake is and I know he's one of the last guys to leave, so he works super hard and his athletic ability is one thing I think that stands out about him."

The 49ers will also look at undrafted rookies Dohnovan West and Jason Poe, 6th round pick Nick Zakelj, and undrafted journeyman Keaton Sutherland as well.

If general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan feel this roster is ready for another Super Bowl push, they should consider signing veteran free agent J.C. Tretter. Tretter is a proven entity with 90 career starts under his belt. The former Packer and Browns center posted a career-best 78.7 overall grade last year in Cleveland, according to PFF. That grade also included a stellar 83.7 pass-blocking mark. Tretter has not posted a sub-80 pass-blocking grade in six consecutive seasons.
  • Written by:
    Bob Heyrman is a lead editor at Octopus Thrower, part of the FanSided network, and a contributor for 49ers Webzone, part of USA Today Sports digital properties. He is an avid lifelong sports fan and has written and edited numerous articles across both networks. When Bob isn't writing, he manages his family farm, which originated in 1926. He can often be found in downtown Detroit, taking in a sporting event.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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