I think that, in spite of a nightmare off-season where so much has gone wrong it’s almost comical at this point, the San Francisco 49ers are still a decent football team. On offense I truly believe that this is the most balanced attack we’ve seen in a very long time. While there will no doubt be some growing pains on the defensive side of the ball, I’d say there’s enough talent there to still be pretty good.
Do you know what scares me though? I mean like wake me up in the middle of the night screaming scares me? The offensive line.
Let me explain.
I think that GM Trent Baalke and company are fooling themselves if they think T Erik Pears can be the answer at right tackle all season. While C/G Marcus Martin and G Brandon Thomas have a lot of promise, they have exactly zero NFL starts combined at guard (Martin did start eight games at center last year). At center, is C Daniel Kilgore going to be healthy? Because if he’s not we have a big problem.
Pears is a 10-year veteran who has started 70 games at tackle over his career. He spent last season as the Buffalo Bills starting right guard, and the switch inside ended up being a disaster as he finished 76th out of 78 qualifiers with a -25 rating (according to Pro Football Focus). He’s proven to be slighty better on the outside, but was still below average at tackle in 2013, ranking 55th out of 76 qualifiers. While he may be a little better than T Jonathan Martin, he still doesn’t inspire much confidence.
The Martin/Thomas combo is intriguing, but again, they don’t have any experience in the NFL at the position and an adjustment period is inevitable. Granted, their pass blocking can’t be as bad as G Mike Iupati’s was, as the former Niner guard was a turnstile in pass protection, allowing seven sacks and 24 additional pressures. Only six lineman allowed more sacks last season. But Iupati was dominant in run game, (rated second best in the league according to Pro Football Focus) and that production will not be easily replaced.
Last but certainly not least is the status of Kilgore. He’s expected to be out for at least half of camp after ankle surgery, which is a huge blow to an already unstable unit. Kilgore may have been the 49ers best lineman last season before a fractured leg sidelined him for the rest of the year. Consider that in the six and a half games Kilgore was in the lineup, the Niners gave up 17 sacks. In the nine and half games he was out, they surrendered 35.
While HC Jim Tomsula has sung the praises of C/G Joe Looney, it’s hard to think he could be as effective as Kilogore, especially with other young players on the line with him. The team has to hope Kilgore can go sooner rather than later, and he’s not too far behind the eight-ball when he does.
For me, I’m of the opinion that the team needs to make a serious run at G Evan Mathis, especially since they now have additional cap room after releasing OLB Aldon Smith.
Mathis is a beast, and has been Pro Football Focus’ highest graded guard in three of the last four seasons with +41.3 grade in 2011 (1st), +52.0 in 2012 (1st), +48.3 in 2013 (1st) and +25.8 in 2014 (2nd).
Adding Mathis will allow the the 49ers move G Alex Boone to right tackle, which makes sense considering he’s better than Pears. That would give the 49ers Boone and stalwart T Joe Staley on the outside, Kilgore at center, and Mathis plus the winner of the Thomas/Martin battle at guard.
Obviously, adding Mathis has to happen very soon for him to get up to speed, but it’s the best option right now to help solidify what might be the biggest question mark on the roster.