Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


Projecting the San Francisco 49ers’ Offensive Line for the 2020 Season

Bret Rumbeck
Aug 7, 2020 at 7:00 AM


It's an odd feeling going into NFL training camp with no visual indicators of how players look. A global pandemic forced the NFL to cancel its offseason schedule and the preseason.

Instead, the San Francisco 49ers started the 2020 season with nasal swabs and virtual meetings before moving into strength and conditioning. The first padded practice isn't until next week, and the world will not see live football until Thursday, September 10, 2020.

The starting offensive line for this year's 49ers is nearly set, though the battle for the reserve positions could be exciting camp battles.

Here are the 2020 projected starters and back-ups.

Trent Williams - Left Tackle

General manager John Lynch's acquisition of All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams was a masterful plan. On the third day of the 2020 NFL draft, Lynch sent a 2020 fifth-round pick and a 2021 third-round selection to Washington to obtain Williams.

Williams is now one of three first-round draft picks on the 49ers' offensive line.

Previously, Williams flourished in head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense. While some of the terminologies might have changed, the fundamental strategy and foundations, such as an outside zone run and 2/3 Jet pass protections, remain the same.

Replacing former left tackle Joe Staley was never going to be an easy task, but Lynch and Shanahan found the right player at the right price.

Laken Tomlinson - Left Guard

Every offseason, I hope the 49ers' brass gets wise and finally makes a significant investment in the interior offensive line.

And just like every Christmas as a child, I am left disappointed.

The 49ers enter the 2020 season with a questionable interior offensive line, which seems to be a dominant theme in the Lynch-Shanahan era.

Six-year veteran guard Laken Tomlinson has been a consistent figure in the 49ers' starting line-up since signing with the team on August 31, 2017. His ability to remain healthy and work in a system that caters to some of his skills is what makes him valuable.

Unfortunately, Tomlinson continues to struggle in pass blocking. He gives up 3.6 sacks, 30.2 pressures, and 22.2 hurries per season. His Pro Football Focus overall grade is 65.5 per season.

While Lynch deserves applause for signing Williams, he gets a thumbs down for doing nothing to find a new left or right guard.

Ben Garland - Center

Two offensive linemen surprised me with their play last year. The first was Ben Garland, who filled in for center Weston Richburg midway through the Week 14 victory of the New Orleans Saints.

Garland, an Air Force Academy graduate, played 405 snaps at center and averaged at 65.7 overall grade from Weeks 14 through the Super Bowl. He allowed one sack, one hit, four hurries, and six pressures.

Two years ago, the 49ers signed veteran center Weston Richburg to a five-year deal worth $47.5 million. Richburg has been the victim of injuries and suffered torn patellar tendon in Week 14 last season.

Right now, Richburg is starting the 2020 season on the active/physically unable to perform list.

Richburg had significantly improved his play from 2018. He cut his allowed sacks, hits, hurries, and pressures while increasing his overall offensive grade by more than 6 points.

Garland only allowed one sack, one hit, four hurries and six pressures last season and had a stellar performance against the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional playoff game.

The center position is Richburg's once he is healthy enough to come back, and can then bump Garland down to a reserve role.

Daniel Brunskill - Right Guard

Tackle Daniel Brunkskill was the second surprise performance from the offensive line last season. Veteran tackle Shon Coleman's preseason injury opened a competition for the swing tackle spot, and Brunskill won a place on the final roster.

Injuries to tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey forced Brunskill to play both positions, and he also started two games at right guard in place of an injured Mike Person. He played 284 snaps at right tackle, then switched to left tackle for Weeks 12 and 13, playing 83 snaps. He then played 107 snaps right guard in Weeks 16 and 17.

Typically, tackles are not interchangeable with guards. Interior players can move around - it is not a shock to see a center fill in at guard. But moving from tackle to guard is not the same, and his overall Pro Football Focus grade does not recognize that fact.

At left and right tackle, Brunskill only allowed one sack, four hurries, and five pressures.

His first start at right guard was in Week 16, and he allowed one sack, three hurries, and four pressures. The next week, Brunskill played a great game against Seattle and did not allow a single sack, hit, hurry or pressure.

There were moments where Brunskill looked over his head, but he was a solid player and was one reason the 49ers overcame injuries to key offensive linemen in 2019.

Mike McGlinchey - Right Tackle

Of the hundreds of statistical categories in football, the dreaded sophomore slump deserves some real scientific analysis. Too often, experts and fans hope a regression will not follow a stellar rookie year.

Tackle Mike McGlinchey certainly proved he was a capable tackle and worthy of the 49ers' 9th overall draft selection in 2018. However, last season, it felt like he was not as sharp as he looked during his rookie year.

McGlinchey suffered a knee injury in the Week 5 win over Cleveland and caused him to miss four games.

The injury caused him to play 100 fewer snaps, though his overall grades were not much lower than his rookie year. His most significant drop came in run blocking, which seems a bit odd.

The 49ers rushed 263 times to the right side, for 1,459 yards or 5.54 yards per rush. Ninety-eight of these attempts came off the right end, and the 49ers put the ball in the end zone 15 times, gained 33 first downs, and had 20 runs of 10 yards or more off the right edge.

McGlinchey also cut his allowed hits, hurries and pressures, but gave up one more sack than he did as a rookie. It just felt at times that McGlinchey was not as sharp as he was as a rookie - and that very well be due to the midseason knee injury.

With Staley gone, it is now McGlinchey's time to take over leadership of the offensive line.

Reserves

In a strange twist, Coleman's announcement that he opted out for the 2020 season opens up the reserve tackle position for second-year veteran Justin Skule and rookie Colton McKivitz.

Skule was not a quality reserve during his rookie year, often ending up on his heels or looking lost in pass protection. He allowed six sacks and 23 pressures last season and was benched during the Week 12 win over Green Bay.

With no preseason games to watch, it will be an impressive camp battle between Skule and McKivitz, the 49ers fifth-round choice in the 2020 draft. McKivitz was a left tackle at West Virginia and was named the Big 12 Conference Co-Offensive Lineman of the year in 2019.

Another compelling battle might be between second-year veteran Ross Reynolds and eight-year veteran Tom Compton for the reserve guard role.

Reynolds was an undrafted free agent last year, and I thought he was a dark horse to make the final roster. He ended up spending the season on the practice squad.

After releasing Person on April 1, 2020, Lynch signed Compton to a one-year deal on April 3, 2020. Adding Compton is another head-scratching move in the Lynch-Shanahan era that did not improve the roster.

We can argue adding Compton was to expand the roster, which would be valid if the 49ers were not already weak at the interior.

I would love to see Reynolds win a roster spot over Compton, but something tells me Compton will end up being a reserve for a few weeks. Reynolds is still eligible for the practice squad, and the 49ers could stash him there for another season or call him up once Compton proves he is not a reliable lineman.
  • 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 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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