There is no question in my mind that the San Francisco 49ers offensive line underachieved last season. A once proud unit who imposed their will down in the trenches, the 49ers somehow lost that cultural identity.
In 2014, the 49ers still managed to boast the 4th ranked rushing attack, but it was the pass protection that was disappointing as they allowed a whopping 52 sacks (the most under the Harbaugh era).
And with the 49ers losing their best run-blocker in G Mike Iupati to free-agency, what’s in store for 2015?
While many Forever Faithful suggest that the unit is in shambles, I believe they are not and can bounce back from that porous season. Below are three reasons why I believe the 49ers offensive line will win and win big in 2015 as the team gets back to basics.
Last year the 49ers were hit hard with the injury bug along the offensive line. From C/G Daniel Kilgore’s broken leg to RT Anthony Davis’ sprained MCL/concussion–it seemed like the 49ers offensive line were playing musical chairs week in and week out. A unit that had developed continuity in Harbaugh’s first three seasons–the injuries piled on and as a result the 49ers were left scrambling to fill in healthier bodies in 2014.
This year should be different as the team returns to health and one player who will shine is G Brandon Thomas. Last year’s third-round pick (No. 100), Thomas will likely win the starting left guard role left by Iupati.
A behemoth of a guard as Thomas stands 6-3, 317, you can be sure that Thomas will dominate his side of the line of scrimmage. A converted left tackle, Thomas has the quick feet to pull on traps while easily warding off pass-rushers with his elongated wingspan so look for Thomas to provide more of an athletic presence than Iupati as he is more suited to run OL coach Chris Foerster’s stretch plays.
Not to mention, Kilgore will also be looking to regain his starting role at center as he fights with G/C Marcus Martin, there is no question the 49ers offensive line will improve in 2015. Depth was a concern last year due to injuries but with the return of two key players while the team added versatile G/T Erik Pears via free-agency– all is not lost along the offensive line.
Another reason why the 49ers offensive line will bounce back in 2015 is due to the 49ers offense going back to basics–meaning smash-mouth football.
Last season it was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of offense, where the 49ers would start off in spread formations one week and then go power-I the next. I understand that each week is different and as a result you tweak your game-plan accordingly but to neglect what you do best altogether is ridiculous.
At head coach Jim Tomsula’s press conference, GM Trent Baalke added what the 49ers will be in 2015 as he said, “I think somewhere in there he said to run.” Look for the 49ers to do that a lot in 2015 as they play to the players strengths.
Finally, why I believe the 49ers offensive line will turnaround in 2015 is due to the new offensive scheme in place.
The 49ers will likely use power-run but will also incorporate stretch plays to spread the defense horizontally. This helps the offensive line because it will be the running back’s job to choose the hole he hits.
If the defensive end shows outside containment then it will be up to RB Carlos Hyde to cut back inside to the right. If the defensive end shows inside gap integrity then it will be up to Hyde to bounce back outside. This not only helps Hyde but the offensive line as they will be the ones responsible for then hitting the second-level.
Not to mention, RB Reggie Bush will likely be used on screen-passes as he is a dual-threat coming out of the backfield, no longer can defenses swarm to QB Colin Kaepernick as he will make them pay.
Aside from the 49ers running backs they also have a new deep-threat by the name of WR Torrey Smith who can surely win one-on-one battles on the outside. If the 49ers run the ball successfully they can then use the naked boot-leg play-action pass to go over the top. After all that’s the reason the team signed Smith in the first place–you can see where this new offense can go if the offensive line does their job.
With the 49ers preparing for the NFL draft, I would be surprised if they drafted an offensive lineman in the first-round–as I believe they already have the players in place to succeed. From Thomas’ ACL recovery to the 49ers new offensive scheme, look for the line to do their job as they’re sure to bounce back in 2015.