Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports


Film From the Field House: The 49ers’ Case for Upgrading the Interior Offensive Line

Bret Rumbeck
Mar 5, 2020 at 7:00 AM0



It's been a cruel truth to accept, but San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has not put a need on high-quality interior linemen, specifically his guards.

Long gone are the days of a mauling, 310-pound guard with a full cage bullring facemask, a fat neckroll, and the flexibility of hardened adamantium. Shanahan's run game is not a grinding, power system that demands the guards crush every defender in their path.

We live in an era of the zone run, where the running back doesn't have a designated hole to run through, and the offensive linemen block an area or head to the second level.

Shanahan would rather have a guard with brains and athleticism. Both are more valuable assets in a zone system than a guard who resembles a brick wall.

The strategy has worked for the 49ers, especially when reviewing the team's 2019 rush statistics. The 49ers finished second in the NFL with 2,305 total rush yards, 23 touchdowns, and averaging 144.1 yards per game.

Shanahan relied heavily on the running game to close the regular season. From Weeks 12 to 17, the 49ers' offense rushed 149 times for 815 yards and ten touchdowns. That's roughly 5.5 yards per rush, and all this was done with an average interior offensive line.

As much as the team needs to find a reliable deep-threat wide receiver, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch need to take a serious look at rebuilding the interior offensive line.

The 49ers' interior offensive line problems were on display when the team tried to attack through the air.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered the most hits, hurries, and pressures from defenders running through left guard Laken Tomlinson and right guard Mike Person. Combined, Tomlinson and Person allowed ten hits, 50 hurries, and 64 pressures.

Tomlinson's upside is his ability to stay healthy and working in a system that caters to his skillset. He isn't the NFL's best guard, but he is incredibly consistent and reliable. Tomlinson allows 3.6 sacks per season, 30.2 pressures and 22.2 hurries per season, and averages an overall 65.5 grade per season.

In 2018, Person had the best numbers on the offensive line, allowing only one sack and seven hurries. The 49ers signed Person to a three-year extension worth $9 million last March, including a guarantee of $3 million, which was probably an excellent way of rewarding his 2018 performance.

Unfortunately, 2019 was not kind to Mike Person, who had his worst season as a professional football player. He allowed 35 pressures, 29 hurries and five sacks in 1,114 total snaps. His pass blocking hit rock bottom during Week 6 when he earned an 11.5 grade from Pro Football Focus.

As much as the 49ers could use a deep threat in the receiver corps, the team must upgrade and replace Person at right guard. Here are a few reasons why from the 2019 season.

Week 6 - 2nd Quarter: 2nd and 10 at the SF 49 (14:52)


Pro Football Focus can be a useful tool, but the grading scale is erratic and provides no reason why a player earns a high or low grade. Person's 11.5 pass-blocking grade was one of the worst awarded last season.

Person had to battle Los Angeles Rams' defensive tackle Aaron Donald throughout the afternoon, which led to the artificially low grade. Few guards in professional football can nullify Donald's presence during a game, and Mike Person is not one of those guards.

However, earning an 11.5 grade is like showing up to the SAT hungover and answering four questions before passing out.

Up until this play, Person had a satisfactory game. He had a solid second series, even getting called upon to pull to his left to help running back Tevin Coleman gain four yards.


The call was a play-action, using P15 Split protection. Split protection occurs when the backs head in opposite directions: the fullback to the right and the halfback to the left or vice versa. The offensive line is coached to block aggressively.

Los Angeles was in a base 3-4 under front, with nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day shaded to the closed side of the formation.

The protection called for center Weston Richburg and Person to double team Joseph-Day, with Richburg keeping an eye on the Plug linebacker.


At the snap, Joseph-Day engaged the double team block on his second step and exploded to spin around Person on his third step.

Person had too much weight on his inside leg, leaving him no chance to bounce right and block the open B-gap. He nearly gave up a sack, but Garoppolo found tight end George Kittle on a scissors route.

Week 6 - 3rd Quarter: 2nd and 7 at the LAR 36 (8:48)



Shanahan calls 19 Weak to attack the perimeter of the weak side of the offensive formation. The offensive line uses outside zone blocking.

Since 19 Weak was going left, each offensive lineman looked left to determine if he was covered or uncovered.

An offensive lineman is covered when a defender is between the lineman's nose and the nose of the lineman to his left. The lineman is uncovered if that scenario is not occurring.

The covered lineman usually makes a 'reach' block on the defender to his left. Person was uncovered, so it was his job to run to the second level to pick off a linebacker or pesky safety.


Person's backside block was just as critical as the guard and tackle on the play side. Running back Matt Breida bent back against the grain but had no help from Person.

Week 15 - 1st Quarter: 1st and 10 at the ATL 45 (4:26)


Person had a rough Week 15 when the 49ers faced the Atlanta Falcons. On a handful of snaps, Person faced defensive tackle Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, an undrafted free agent who'd spent more time on Atlanta's practice squad than the active roster.

The play below sums up Person's long afternoon, allowing five hurries and five pressures.


Tuioti-Mariner rushed to Person's inside, which blew Person's doors off and had him staring down at his shoes.


What made the play worse was Person blocking Tuioti-Mariner into the pocket.


Week 15 – 3rd Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF 43 (14:14)



I must have watched this play eight or nine times to try and determine what Shanahan called.

Unfortunately, due to Person's weak pull and pass block, combined with the motion, running back Tevin Coleman missing his defender, and center Ben Garland missing a block, it turned into a jumbled mess.


The play's failure was not on Person, but it does show the mental errors he had throughout the game against Atlanta.

Pro Football Focus awarded Person an overall grade of 30.6. He earned a 25.8 pass-blocking grade and a 34.8 run-blocking grade. This time, I think Pro Football Focus evaluated Person's performance correctly.

Every player has bad moments and bad games, but the 49ers cannot continue to employ a 'hope for the best' strategy with their interior linemen. It's one thing to struggle against Aaron Donald, but quite another to let a practice squad defensive tackle look like an all-world superstar.

The free-agent pool of offensive linemen is as thin and tasteless as Mr. Bumble's gruel. It leaves general manager John Lynch with no option other than to use a draft pick on an interior player.

Lynch could keep the 31st pick and choose guard Jonah Jackson from the Ohio State University. Lynch could also trade into the second round, gain an additional choice, and take a gamble on guard Netane Muti out of Fresno State.

Jackson is the obvious choice, playing multiple positions on the line in two different offensive systems. He's a zone run blocker and one of the better pass blockers in this year's draft.

Muti's downfall is his lack of experience in college due to injury. However, if Lynch and Shanahan still want to build the offensive line on the cheap, but have the chance to mold a guard into exactly what Shanahan's offense demands, then Muti is worth the early pick.

The time is looming for the 49ers to upgrade their offensive line, both at guard and left tackle. Selecting a guard high in the draft is not sensational, but it is a necessary step the team needs to take at some point to make these essential improvements.

All images courtesy of NFL.com.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
The views 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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