For this edition of 2011 49ers Grades, we're taking a look at second year starting left guard, Mike Iupati. After watching Iupati this season, he appears to be a long term solution to the left guard position and a possible 49er lifer. It's safe to say his strength is run blocking, which he seems to enjoy more than pass blocking. Going forward, Iupati can improve on his pass blocking skills but his ability as a run blocker seems so natural.
When he was drafted by Trent Baalke, the word that was thrown around when describing him was 'mauler' and that's what he's been. He's an aggressive blocker in the run game, who finishes his blocks and gets to the next level. Not only is he chipping linemen and using his body to block defenders from his running back, but he gets hits on linebackers too.
Only in his second year, Iupati has a a veteran presence about him. I think he's considered to be one of the more dependable of the 49er offensive linemen. The left side seems to be the strong blocking side for the Niner offense, between Iupati and Pro Bowl tackle Joe Staley. Iupati has also developed into a great pulling guard, and has had his moments where he's displayed his great athleticism.
Iupati is so strong and such a force as he consistently tries to get defensive players on the ground and keep them there. After reviewing his film once again, I think his footwork -- in pass protection, sometimes it looks messy. Iupati seems to be more comfortable as an aggressive blocker, rather than a protection blocker who stays at bay. He's compensated for his footwork by occupying defenders with his hands, but could benefit from using the rest of his body.
I think he's capable of opening bigger pockets for Alex Smith to throw from, but his technique will need attention from the new staff this offseason. What I like about him most his that he's a real life tough guy, but he's old school in that he doesn't talk much. He's humble and a hard worker, and those kind of attributes will keep you on the 49ers, especially if you have the resume to back it up.
Iupati certainly has Pro Bowl potential and will get more recognition as his game improves and the 49ers continue produce with him as a perennial starter. A fair amount of 49ers fans might have been a little irked when Baalke took a left guard high in the first round, but thinking long term, it appears it might've been worth it.
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