There have been a few head-scratching decisions involving the San Francisco 49ers roster this season, and one of the biggest probably relates to left guard Andrew Tiller. He looked fairly solid in the preseason, and even graded out as PFF's best preseason guard. However, he did not survive final roster cuts, and ended up on the 49ers practice squad. Tiller was subsequently promoted to the 53-man roster on October 10, the day before the team's Week 5 game against the New York Giants.
Tiller has been the focus of quite a bit of fan annoyance. People were pissed he did not make the 53-man roster, and they were further pissed by the rotation with Jordan Devey. On Monday, 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula had his bi-weekly radio program, and he was asked specifically about Tiller. I've transcribed that portion of the segment below, but I wanted to point out a couple things (h/t to Bayareafanatic1 so I didn't have to listen to the whole thing!).
The first is the 53-man roster decision. It is no secret that Trent Baalke retains the decision-making power for determining the 53-man roster. That technically was in place dating back to Jim Harbaugh. Tomsula's radio interview was interesting in that he pointed out that the coaches pushed for Tiller, but Baalke decided he wasn't seeing enough to justify including him on the 53-man roster.
Obviously Tiller has worked out well at guard, so Baalke's decision looks foolish in that regard. It is all the more interesting though considering nobody claimed Tiller off waivers at the end of training camp, and nobody signed him off the practice squad in the first four weeks. The other teams saw similar film to what Baalke saw, whereas the 49ers coaching staff saw him more regularly on a week-to-week basis than opposing teams.
Where things get a little more frustrating was the slow-play on getting him in the lineup. The first four weeks he was on the 53-man roster, Tiller split snaps with Jordan Devey fairly evenly. In Week 9, Tiller had 48 snaps and Devey had 9, and Week 10 was when Tiller took over complete control of the job.
Tomsula talked about Dontae Johnson's move into the lineup recently, and talked about looking good in practice. I can only assume the team thought Devey looked good in practice to justify keeping him in even a rotational role on the offensive line. He rarely looked good in actual action, and yet he continued getting opportunities into the middle of the season.
Even before we heard about Trent Baalke working on the practice field, there were some questions about his role in game-day decisions. James Brady tweeted something about this last week, and as we look back at decisions this season, it makes more and more sense:
49ers coaching staff is disorganized, some not aware who makes certain personnel and lineup decisions even days before game, per source.— James Brady (@JamesBradySBN) December 18, 2015
This whole thing really is a big mess. Anyway, here is the transcript of Tomsula's comments. You can listen to his 12/28 segment here.
Kevin Lynch: I just wanted to talk to you a little bit about Andrew Tiller. I was listening to Trent Baalke on the pre-game, and he was saying, you know, the coaches were pushing for this guy, and I didn't see it. And then he got in, he's played well. What kind of discussions do you have, and will he come to you and say, I don't know if this guy's ready.
Jim Tomsula: Yea, I mean Trent handles our personnel. There's no questions about that. That's the way we work here. We're constantly talking personnel, and he has his views and he shares them, and I share mine, and the coaches share theirs. We all work together on all that stuff. It's not just Tiller. It's a team. There's 53 guys here on the roster. We talk through those guys every week.
KL: So, when you're making a change, for example, you got a lot of different players coming in at right corner, then that's, everybody's in on that discussion?
JT: Well, let me, with the right corner, when these things happen, we talk about it down here, and we look at it from a coaching perspective, on guys that we like to be, when we like to get, and a lot of times it's guys earning more opportunity. A lot of the focus wants to go on, "well, that guy's getting sit down". Well, maybe it's not as much that, as this guy has earned more playing time with the way he's practicing, and things like that. Those decisions are, those are made down here with the coaches. And just talking to Trent, this is what we're looking at, this is what we see, this is where we're gonna go with it this week.
KL: So you guys get together, the coaches, you're in the room, you make the decision, you say, here, Trent, this is what we want to do. We want to go a little more with Dontae Johnson this week.
JT: Yea, it's just constant conversation. You see Dontae practice this week, hey look at that. Dontae had a nice practice, Dontae did some good things, Dontae's really finishing on the ball, let's get Dontae in the game. The way he's practicing right now, let's get him out there, and get him on the field, and get him playing. That's just how that works. To me, that's normal every-day conversation, just in the coaching world.