The San Francisco 49ers opened minicamp today, and media availability of head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman opened the door for plenty of questions about offensive absences. Right guard Alex Boone and tight end Vernon Davis are both absent from the team's mandatory minicamp, after previously skipping the voluntary portion of the team's offseason workout program.
We'll get plenty of chatter about Davis and Boone's contract demands, but as long as they're holding out, the most important question is how the 49ers will fill in for them. The media asked Greg Roman about replacements, and he provided the usual answer that this provides other players a great opportunity. He specifically mentioned how Joe Looney has looked solid so far, and he referenced his solid performance last year against the St. Louis Rams strong defensive front.
I've been a "Looney guy" since that Rams performance. Roman said he graded out high, and I would agree from re-watching the game. He looked better in pass protection, but he still held his own in run blocking as well. I don't know whether or not he has a firm lock on the backup guard role, but he's getting his opportunities with Boone out.
Now it's a matter of seeing how long Boone holds out. If he is out through a sizable chunk of the preseason, Looney could get some significant opportunities. But if Boone holds out into the regular season, does Looney suddenly move into the starting lineup? Or does Adam Snyder slide into the role? It appears Snyder has focused on right tackle this offseason while Anthony Davis continues rehabbing his shoulder. If Looney spends the whole offseason working the right guard spot, a strong enough performance would seem to move him into the starting role.
I can't say that with certainty given that we're still in a period of no live contact, but maybe it does work out. Part of this is me being optimistic, and hoping it works out. The 2012 draft class has been a disaster, and any kind of returns from Looney would at least make it feel a little less awful. Not by much, but at least some.