Training camp is underway and incumbent right guard Alex Boone is still nowhere to be found. Unlike fellow holdout Vernon Davis, who returned to the team on Wednesday, Boone remains resolute in getting a new deal. With his immediate future with the team unclear, it's time to explore the most likely candidates to replace him.
I feel obligated to at least mention Daniel Kilgore in this conversation since he was drafted as a guard and spent his first few years as a backup at that position. However, with the departure of Jonathan Goodwin, Kilgore appears to be entrenched as the team's starting center, effectively eliminating him as a viable option at guard.
You could argue that newcomer Marcus Martin, projected as the top-rated center this past May, would be a more logical fit in the middle of the line. In a few years, this will likely be the case, but for now, the 49ers might feel more comfortable with someone as seasoned as Kilgore handling the responsibilities of a center.
I envision Martin, inversely similar to Kilgore, getting on-field experience at guard before making the switch to center in the near future (those interior line positions, after all, are typically interchangeable), but not as a starter. Think about how Kilgore was the sixth offensive lineman in those jumbo formations -- don't be surprised to see Martin used in a similar fashion this season.
After Kilgore, there is a cluster of seasoned veterans and promising youngsters.
Adam Snyder, 32, has historically served as the offensive line's everyman, boasting starting experience at each position. But then again, the adage ‘jack of all trades, master of none' applies in Snyder's case as he was never truly exceptional wherever he played on the line but merely serviceable. Snyder's seniority and experience will earn him a spot on the roster, for sure, but he may be better suited as a trusted reserve.
ESPN's Bill Williamson believes that Jonathan Martin, acquired in a trade this past March, might be in consideration as Boone's replacement, but quite frankly, I just don't see this happening. The 49ers are pretty thin at tackle. If Staley or Anthony Davis went down -- knock on wood -- I'd feel much more comfortable with a veteran, like Martin, fresh off the bench rather than relative unknowns Carter Bykowski or Fou Fonoti.
It might be advantageous for the 49ers to instead explore their recent influx of youth on the interior line.
Joe Looney, 23, made the All-ACC second team as Wake Forest's starting guard over four years. Looney landed in San Francisco during the 2012 NFL Draft but only made his on-field debut last year. His most significant contribution came last December against the St. Louis Rams when left tackle Joe Staley was injured and left the game. Alex Boone moved over to fill Staley's spot and Looney jumped in at right guard for Boone (Snyder also happened to be at left guard since Mike Iupati was also injured).
Truth be told, we don't have very much game-tape to determine whether or not Looney is ready to be a starter. In his 60 snaps against the Rams, he performed well enough -- and noticeably better than Snyder. But if the 49ers feel comfortable enough to insert Looney into the starting lineup, we should embrace the decision with optimism.
In the unlikely scenario that we have seen the last of Boone, there really is no reason to hit the panic button. Unlike the aforementioned lack of depth at the tackle position, the 49ers have a bevy of chess pieces on the interior line not only for the coming season but the future as well.