Each year, we like to run a series of posts called "90-in-90." The idea is that we'll take a look at every player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few ways. This roster will certainly change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not exactly 90 players in 90 days. At this point, it's a name we're keeping around for street cred.
The San Francisco 49ers head into the 2014 season with a chance to have some really solid offensive line depth. Adam Snyder was the primary reserve last season, with Daniel Kilgore, Joe Looney, and Ryan Seymour behind him on the depth chart. This year, the addition of Jonathan Martin and Marcus Martin adds serious challenges both inside and outside on the offensive line.
One guy who could get into the mix on the line is Joe Looney. The 49ers 2012 draft class turned into an outright disaster. The team still has Looney and LaMichael James attempting to salvage something. At this point, with LMJ potentially on the trade block, it could be left to Looney to keep the class from being a complete waste.
The 49ers drafted Looney in 2012, and was inactive the entire season. He got plenty of practice work at all three interior line positions, but never got on the 46-man roster.
In 2013, Looney was inactive the first ten games, then active for four weeks, then inactive the final two weeks. During his four week active stint, he made his NFL regular season debut. He got in against Washington, garnering three snaps. However, the following week against the Rams, Looney worked 60 snaps. Mike Iupati was out for the game, leaving Adam Snyder starting at left guard. Joe Staley then got hurt, and the 49ers elected to move right guard Alex Boone over to left tackle. The 49ers then moved Looney in to Boone's spot.
That Rams game would prove to be Looney's most significant experience to date. He was pretty solid in his work, looking particularly solid in pass protection. It was only one game, but I thought it gave us some reason for optimism in spite of few opportunities prior to that.
Why he might improve:
The 49ers will likely be looking for ways they can save some money. Colin Kaepernick does not take up a sizable cap hit in 2014, but the team will need to prepare for his future hits. That would seemingly put Adam Snyder on the roster bubble given all the depth that was added. Brandon Thomas is a long-term option who will spend this season on the NFI list. That leaves Looney, Seymour and Marcus Martin as the primary competitors for interior line play. If Looney has shown that he is picking up the inside work, he could end up as the primary backup guard this season. Marcus Martin is talented, but I imagine the team will want him focusing a bit more on learning the center position for now. If Kilgore claims the job ahead of Martin, Looney could very well claim the primary guard position. This is of course assuming he is showing enough improvement on the field. He'll be a guy to watch in the preseason when the starters leave the game.
Why he might regress:
There are a lot of moving parts in competition along the line. If Martin were to claim the starting center job (I still think that's unlikely), maybe Daniel Kilgore becomes that primary rotational interior lineman. There are a lot of people in play across the offensive line depth chart. I don't think I can really say, he might regress because of skill reasons because we really haven't seen enough of him to date. That game against the Rams could prove to be the highlight of his career, or it could be the launching point toward a solid NFL career. None of us knows for sure.
Odds of making the roster:
I think for this year his odds are pretty good, but even for now, it's not a certainty. Adam Snyder remains a versatile depth option. If the team remains happy with Snyder as a reserve, Jonathan Martin and Marcus Martin could force Looney out. I am optimistic and think Looney unseats Adam Snyder, but that comes as much from hoping we see more of what we saw against the Rams. Of course, those were the Rams, so maybe we don't. If I had to qualify Looney right now, I would say he is leaning strong bubble.
If Looney has a meh 2014, this could turn into weak bubble in 2015 when Brandon Thomas is ready to go. The 49ers have enough questions at the guard position that a strong preseason for Looney could set him up to potentially move into a starting spot in 2015 or 2016 when Iupati and/or Boone potentially depart. That's still a long ways off, but the 2014 preseason could be pretty huge for his future with the 49ers.