The 49ers need to get the interior of their offensive line sorted out. It’s the single biggest question mark on their team that doesn’t directly involve Trey Lance. It sounds like they’re moving in the right direction for at least two of the three positions though, with the third spot still up in the air.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan held a press conference before Friday’s practice and discussed what’s happening on the team’s still-unproven offensive line.
There seems to be no question that Aaron Banks will be the left guard. He’s taken the first-team reps there, and he was selected in Round 2 of last year’s draft to be a long-term starter for San Francisco. He spent the offseason reshaping his body and improving his athleticism to better handle the demands of interior OL in Shanahan’s system.
At right guard an unlikely frontrunner has emerged. Rookie fourth-round pick Spencer Burford has been holding that spot down throughout camp with no real challengers emerging. That spot was thought to be Daniel Brunskill’s to lose since he’s started there the last two years, but he’s instead been going head-to-head with Jake Brendel for the starting center job. Right guard appears to be Burford’s spot to lose, but the team could quickly slide Brunskill back there.
“Spencer, he’s done a great job,” Shanahan said. “He’s got the skillset to do it, so it’s about getting the reps and getting used to going against our D-line and just doing it down in and down out at this level. But he’s got the ability to do it at a high level. When you talk about Brunskill, Brunskill’s been there for the last couple of years. We know what Dan can do. Everyone has to prove himself, definitely, but getting Dan a ton of reps, isn’t always going to help him. He needs to get to the season healthy as good as he can. And we also want to make sure he is getting more reps at center because that’s what he’s had less of the past couple years.”
So what about center? Brendel was the apparent frontrunner going into camp, but the club clearly feels Brunskill could push him to be the better option. Brunskill has more NFL experience than Brendel, although very little of it has come at center, and the times he did play center weren’t necessarily stellar. Still, he’s moved positions a couple of times in the NFL and had success, which is why Shanahan is confident in moving him again if he has to.
“(Brendel’s) the guy that’s getting the first opportunity, but we also know Brunskill has started at guard for us at a high level,” Shanahan said. “He’s played at tackle and Dan, really anything we ask him to do, he ends up figuring it out. And plays at a level that is good enough to win at, so we got some good options.”
Ultimately though Shanahan and offensive line coach Chris Foerster can’t glean everything from practice. There’s a level of competition and adversity that games have which practice can’t replicate.
“We see in practice every day now. We saw it last year that we have guys in our building who are definitely capable of it,” Shanahan said. “Now it’s about getting into those games and we’ll try to get them some experience in preseason, you show it in practice, but our o-line coach says it all the time, you don’t know if an o-lineman can play until he gets his (rear end) kicked in a game, because it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen a lot. And then how do you come back the next week? Are you rattled? Do you kind of hide or do you rise to the occasion and learn how to deal with it? And that’s really, to me, what playing o-line is in NFL and you don’t know that until you give those guys those opportunities, but you have to believe in what the person’s made of. And we got the guys athletically and I also think we got the character in this room to handle those situations.”
While the 49ers don’t have any firm answers on the offensive line yet, things appear to be going in the right direction so far. It would be a far worse situation if the club was constantly rotating players at all three positions hoping for one of them to stick out. That could all change after the preseason opener vs. the Packers on Friday when the 49ers’ coaching staff gets a real look at their line in a game situation. They’ll follow that up with practices against the Vikings in Minnesota the next week.
If they’re still confident in this group by that point, their second-biggest question on offense will be answered before the second preseason game.
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Story originally appeared on Niners Wire