49ers Training Camp: Offensive line developments and the Kentwan Balmer situation

Yesterday was arguably the most newsworthy day of training camp thus far. We saw Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati join the first string offensive line. We saw Eric Heitmann go down with a broken leg. And of course, we've had all the cloak and dagger stuff surrounding Kentwan Balmer.

First, the Balmer situation. Obviously it must be mentioned, but I really don't know what to say about it at this point from an analytical standpoint. There were conflicting reports about Balmer all day yesterday. First he wasn't around at all, then he was at the facility, but was sitting out practice due to "personal reasons." Then we hear that Singletary was planning on sitting down for a one-on-one discussion to clarify issues that were lingering.

Phil Barber posted some interesting info from an interview he and Dan Brown did with Balmer last week:

I asked the defender if last year's lack of production was because he wasn't ready, or because he just didn't get the opportunity.

Balmer, wanting to remain diplomatic, clearly was agitated by the question. He started and stopped several times, shaking his head and laughing.

"I felt like I was ready," he finally answered. "I mean, I felt like I had a good preseason. But it ain't up to me who gets an opportunity, you know what I'm saying? I felt like I was ready, but obviously that wasn't the case. You turn on the preseason film and you make your own judgment."

At this point, can anybody say with any kind of real confidence what is going on? There's some kind of issue, but who really knows what it is. Is he disgruntled with playing time? Was he held out of practice by the coaching staff and they passed along the "personal reasons" line? At this point who knows when we'll find out because I don't see Coach Singletary giving a complete explanation of what has gone down. Any media session today should be fairly interesting.

After the jump we move on to the offensive line.

Yesterday was certainly an interesting day for the offensive line. The excitement was high with the elevation of Davis and Iupati, and yet it came crashing down with the injury to Eric Heitmann. The injury to Heitmann opens the door to a competition between David Baas, Tony Wragge, and Cody Wallace.

At this point, it seems like Baas might be the leader coming out of the gates. He's been getting more and more practice time at center this offseason. Hoopers Judge had an insightful comment yesterday after returning from the afternoon practice. Baas was getting the afternoon snaps, but also he and Smith were working after the completion of practice  on the center-QB exchange for regular snaps, and shotgun snaps.

Now that doesn't mean he's clearly the guy, but if I was making the decision I'd look at Baas as having a bit more upside than Wragge. While Wragge is a solid depth guy at the interior positions, Baas has generally been considered the more talente offensive lineman, even if his on-field performance hasn't always matched the hype. He played center in college, and was starting on the line throughout last season. I would suspect we'll see Baas with the first team offensive line this Sunday against the Colts.

There are plenty of questions about the offensive line at this point, and for now I'm curious about its effect on the running game. Conceivably, the 49ers could spend the next 6-8 weeks with a rookie at left guard in Iupati, a third year player at right guard in Rachal who is continuing to learn and improve, and a guy at center who hasn't played the position in competitive action since college. I'm not saying this is the end of the world, but it's certainly something the team has to think about going forward.

Frank Gore has shown an ability to put up solid numbers even with awful offensive lines. Will the team just stick with what they've done, or do make some adjustments, whether it be more sweeps, or some other manner of mixing up the rushing attack? In the end I wouldn't expect much in the way of change, but given that we could see 3/5 of the line be changed over from last year come week 1, it's certainly an issue to consider.

As to the passing attack, well, this will certainly be a test of Alex Smith's new-found confidence early on. He's had what appears to be a strong offseason, and he's going to face some adversity right off the bat. I realize folks are worried about the team given all the injuries, but you certainly can't say they aren't keeping us on our toes. And Mike Solari and Ray Brown will certainly earn their salaries this year.

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