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Should the 49ers be worried about their offensive line depth?

Rohan Chakravarthi
Aug 6, 2023 at 6:26 PM--


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The San Francisco 49ers are coming into the season with one of the strongest rosters in the NFL from top to bottom, as has been seen during training camp, with several competitive battles at certain positions for a chance to make the 53-man roster.

However, the 49ers did lose a key player in right tackle Mike McGlinchey, who was arguably their biggest loss as a free agent when involving positional value and the fact that the team didn't add another player at right tackle, apart from backup Matt Pryor.

The offensive line surprised many last season, although, after watching the last training camp, I predicted that the group would be an above-average unit in 2022, which came to fruition.

This season, the 49ers are trotting out a similar offensive line, but replacing McGlinchey with right tackle Colton McKivitz, who has only been seen in spot action in the NFL.

Should the 49ers be worried about their offensive line depth?



The 49ers have been fairly fortunate with their injury luck thus far in training camp, although offensive lineman Aaron Banks did face a concussion earlier this week, keeping him out of a few practices.

But, offensive line coach Chris Foerster shared positive news when speaking to reporters Saturday, clarifying that the left guard is doing good in his recovery.

"I don't [know how the injury occurred]. It happened in a drill and somehow you get hit just right. I don't know. You'd have to ask him if he got hit in the chin or maybe it was, I don't know. I really don't know. I just know that he felt something and they've evaluated it and so then he goes into the protocol thing and that's how they determine when they're ready to come back and everything like that. So, he seems to be doing good though," Foerster said.

In his place, the 49ers split reps between Nick Zakelj and Jason Poe with the first-team offense one day, while placing Jon Feliciano in that role over the last two days following his return from a minor injury.

Foerster pointed out how valuable the extra reps are for the younger guys, citing Banks and right guard Spencer Burford's development from a season ago, helping them get their feet wet ahead of the preseason.

"It's been great work for them [in Banks's absence]," Foerster said. "Yeah, great work. The young guys, it's like Aaron last year, it's like with [OL] Spencer [Burford] last year, all those guys that extra work is great for them. Yesterday's practice was like, I wouldn't say old school, but we had a lot of reps, a lot of team plays, a lot of contact, and that's really, really good for them to play themselves into shape. And for guys that need to improve, that's the best chance you have to get better besides the preseason games."

The 49ers have used Nick Zakelj sporadically at all three interior spots this offseason, looking to find the perfect spot for him, but Foerster was wary, shutting down the chances of him competing for a starting job, and instead focusing on developing that flexibility, which is the same plan for Feliciano.

"Well, I don't think Nick coming into camp is in a position to compete for a starting job. So, his thing is to try to put himself in a position to be just like we're doing with [OL] Keith Ishmael, and it's just, has to be able to do the inside three. So [OL] Jon Feliciano, him, they're going to have to do that thing where they figure out right guard, left guard, center, kind of get comfortable in all of them. And we can see how they do that, to have that flexibility."

The 49ers are operating under a similar pretense with second-year lineman Jason Poe, who has slowly seen some center reps, and has showcased different tendencies than other guys, looking to let his play do the talking, rather than communicate with those around him.

That's something that Poe will need to improve, should he continue earning reps at center, given how vital communication is at that position, Foerster shared.

"We started getting Jason some snaps at center now early in practice. He's done a great job learning the offense. He's not like a very verbal guy from line calls. Some football players get out there, as you can probably imagine, [Denver Broncos T Mike] McGlinchey, right? I'll go back to a guy that's not here, right. And he just wants to be talking all the time. He's always going to be talking. He's going to be talking to the guard. He's going to be talking to the tackle. He'll be talking to tight end. And Poe's going to go play and go block people the best he can. The center has to be able to communicate and Jason's got to learn how to do that. So first of all, seeing just how well he can play so he's got to get in that position and he'll be the same as those other three eventually and take us some snaps at center."

While Poe isn't as ready as a center, he is with his strength, as Foerster dubbed him as potentially the second-strongest player on the team, right behind than Trent Williams.

"No, his [main issue] is stature because there is a point where no matter how strong you are and he might be the second strongest guy on the team to [T] Trent [Williams]," Foerster said.

However, there does come a point where size does matter, with Foerster placing Poe as right on the borderline of being too short or length-wise, but the offensive lineman continues to make a compelling argument with his size and speed.

"There is just a thing of just the size and there's just a deal in an offensive line. And he may be fringe just too short or lengthwise or things like that. Although he's right on the borderline. And it's going to be tough. It's range. It's how far do you get from here to here? He's fast, he's quick, but there's just that length and that'd be the only thing that keeps him from doing it."

A solution? The potential move to center, where some size and length can be sacrificed, and Poe could at least have a chance to stick at the position with his other qualities.

"That's why the move to center, if he can do the snapping, the calls and all the things that go with that, then that may be a better position because that's a little less. There's certain things in every position, arm length, every position's got different variables that matter. And Jason's just below the line on those things in some areas, but he might be able to overcome them because of strength and quickness."

The other domino in the interior offensive line group is Jon Feliciano, who seems to be the 49ers' most-preferred option on the interior. He earned all the first-team snaps at left guard over Poe and Zakelj when returning from injury, while offensive line coach Chris Foerster dubbed his best spot as center.

"I think his best spot is center. And he does play well at guard. He's doing a great job in all three inside. The guards in this offense, and John's got it, he just has to do more of it with us, that there's a quickness to our running game," Foerster said. "John's played guard, done a good job in this league. He played all last year at center and did a really good job for the [New York] Giants. Center's his best spot, but he's going to have to play guard for us as well. And I think he's doing a good job. Every day he does it he gets a little bit more exposure to what we do and does it a little bit better. He just hasn't done a lot of our run game. It was little, small sample sizes."

Whenever Foerster speaks with the media, he always shares great insight into his beliefs about the group in front of him.

At the moment, it seems that Feliciano is the most-preferred. Nick Zakelj seems to be adapting to a role based on flexibility, as he's seeing reps at all three positions, while the 49ers want to try Jason Poe out more at center.

Regardless of where, it's apparent that these three players are San Francisco's top interior depth. The only question comes to whether the team will carry eight or nine offensive linemen, which would limit the number of interior linemen brought on to the 53-man roster.

Should it be nine, there seems to be a fairly good chance that all three could make the roster, with the 49ers carrying one swing tackle. If it's eight, however, it'll likely be only two interior members and the swing tackle.
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.



1 Comment

  • BigAl
    Every team should be worried about their OL depth...Definitely a shortage compared to big-time pass rushers
    Aug 7, 2023 at 4:11 AM
    0

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