Late last week we took a look at the 49ers roster projections for the defensive line. The general consensus was that Isaac Sopoaga (with 46% of the vote) would be the starting left defensive end by the end of the 2010 season. Kentwan Balmer is back from injury and hopefully can make an impact, but I don't think there is a ton of confidence from the fans.Ray McDonald finished second in the vote, but he seems likely to stick in his role in the nickel defense. He's an impact player, but has yet to prove to be an every-down player.
I thought today we'd move to the other side of the line and discuss an always hot topic, the offensive line. To date we've discussed the d-line, the quarterbacks, the running backs, the fullbacks, the safeties, and the cornerbacks.
The offensive line has seen some important additions this offseason in the likes of OT Anthony Davis and G Mike Iupati. It is way too early to tell what kind of impact they'll make early on, but the team obviously has high hopes for them given their first round draft status. Florida Danny is working on a post about the potential impact of first round picks on the offensive line, which should make for some interesting reading. In the meantime, we'll take a look at the roster projections for the 49ers offensive line.
Last season the 49ers kept 9 offensive linemen with 2 centers, 3 guards and 4 tackles. If you consider my rundown of locks, bubble players and long shots, you probably have a few questions about locks, most notably the trio of David Baas, Tony Wragge and Adam Snyder. Considering Baas was a second round pick who has shown promise, and can play a mixture of positions, he's not going anywhere, and could very well be starting week 1. The team got him some snaps at center during May OTAs so if he can show some adequate skill there, it only increases his chances of sticking around.
Snyder is in a similar situation because there's a good chance he could be starting week 1 if the rookies don't come on strong enough. Throw in the fact that he can play decently at tackle and at guard, and you really don't give up that kind of versatility. I know he gets a lot of crap from some folks, but as a depth guy I think he's perfect.
Tony Wragge is getting up there in football age (he's 30) but he can still play both guard positions and center if needed and is like an older version of David Baas with a bit less upside. Wragge is signed through this year and I see very little downside to keeping him on the roster at this point.
Where it gets interesting is what looks like a potential 3-way battle for the final roster spot. The 49ers kept 9 linemen last year, and our locks have us at 8. That leaves one spot for a battle between Barry Sims, Alex Boone, and Cody Wallace. The team could very well carry ten offensive linemen, but I'm just not seeing that as there are a variety of other guys who bring more to the table in terms of their respective position.
Barry Sims proved to be an extremely valuable swing man last year, filling in for Joe Staley quite impressively when Staley went down with his knee injury. The team re-signed him to a 1-year deal this offseason, but given how easily cuts can happen, that contract doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot.
Cody Wallace has been sitting around for the last two seasons, finally seeing some playing time late this last year. Eric Heitmann continues going strong, so any chance of Wallace sticking around would seem to be predicated in part on his offering up some depth. For centers, this seems to mean adding a little bit of guard to their repertoire. The problem at this point is that with the team working in David Baas at center a bit, Wallace could find himself bumped even further down the depth chart. Last year I figured the team wanted to bide their time with the youngster, but this year, time may be running out. He hasn't had much of an opportunity in the regular season, but one would imagine if he had shown something more in practice we'd hear about it. Instead we have not. I would say of the three guys on this list, Wallace is the most in danger of not making final cuts.
Alex Boone is a big time wild card for the offensive line. He's not going to be starting anytime soon, but with all the reports of his much better body, he's showing that he does care enough to make the necessary effort to improve. A strong body doesn't mean much if he can't convert that into performance in training camp and the preseason. After spending his rookie season at right tackle, Boone has been getting practice time at left tackle. If he can show sufficient improvement, the team might not want to risk losing him to waivers (while trying to slip him onto the practice squad). I honestly don't know what happens with Boone at this point. Outside of the starters, Boone might be one of the most prominent players to watch once training camp and preseason games gets going.