The San Francisco 49ers offensive line has been a stalwart unit in recent seasons, but this year we are seeing some changes. Jonathan Goodwin left in free agency, resulting in Daniel Kilgore moving into the center role. Additionally, Alex Boone is holding out for a new contract, resulting in Joe Looney getting right guard work this offseason. Additionally, Anthony Davis is recovering from shoulder surgery, so Jonathan Martin is starting in his place for the preseason. Davis expects to return in time for Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys.
What all this means is there were three new faces on the offensive line for the team's preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens. Joe Staley and Mike Iupati continued to man the left side of the line, but center, right guard and right tackle were all new starters. Given all the new players, I wanted to give them a look, and having them all on one side of the line certainly made that job a little easier. Additionally, Kilgore, Looney, and Martin each played 24 snaps, coming off at the same time.
Overall, it was a very inconsistent performance from that side of the line. They had their positive moments, some more than others, but it was a serious learning experience, for them and for us as fans. One important point, at least in my mind, is that next week's game is even more important to see if the players learn from their mistakes.
Daniel Kilgore generally seemed to know his assignments, but physically he seemed outmatched at times. It is worth noting that since we do not have the playbook, we cannot know for certain if any offensive lineman is technically diagnosing the appropriate assignment. That is something to keep in mind when considering whether a guy blocked the wrong guy in a good way, or the right guy in a bad way. These each tell us different things about his performance.
In Kilgore's case, he finished the evening with some question marks about his physicality. There were times he made the right block, but there were a few instances where he was easily thrown out of the way. This happened on the 3rd and 2 situation on the opening drive that saw Jewel Hampton stuffed for a loss. Hampton had no chance on that run due to Kilgore and Looney's poor blocks. Marcus Martin is back on the practice field, but did not get any snaps in the preseason opener. It will be interesting to see if he gets some second string center work next week. If so, how long until he potentially takes Kilgore's job?
Joe Looney was part of the poor line play on Jewel Hampton's goal line play, and it was one of several plays in which Looney struggled. Guys were getting around and past him much easier than any of us would like. It certainly benefits Alex Boone for Looney to struggle, but all I want is a capable right guard. Looney was off balance, and that is something he'll need to work on between now and a week from Sunday. I'll be looking as closely at him next Sunday as anybody else.
Fans were all over Jonathan Martin yesterday. In looking back on his performance, he had some miscues, but he also had some solid plays. The problem of course is that the poor plays stick out. On the opening drive, the 49ers had a 2nd and 2 inside the 10-yard line. Jewel Hampton got the carry outside to the right, with Martin as his lead blocker. Instead of engaging his defender, or at least diving into him, Martin went down early, and barely grazed the defender. That player then easily brought down Hampton.
Martin generally seemed fine on pass protection, but the physicality of run blocking was lacking. The 49ers went left on most of their early runs, but when they went right, they did not find much success. Chris Biderman made a good point that it might just be that he is still getting his strength back from his offseason mono. It's hard to tell for certain, but he needs to show some improvement soon. Again, I don't think he was awful, but in run blocking, he's got work to do.