The San Francisco 49ers headed into the 2015 offseason with a significant change along the offensive line. Left guard Mike Iupati would hit free agency, and I think most people assumed he was out the door. Not too long after free agency got going, Iupati signed with the Arizona Cardinals, leaving a hole at left guard.
A year ago, the 49ers drafted Brandon Thomas and red-shirted him as he recovered from an early April ACL tear. All indications are that his health is fine a year later, and he should be good to go for training camp. Heading into the offseason workout program, he was competing with Joe Looney, Erik Pears and potentially Daniel Kilgore or Marcus Martin for that fifth offensive line role. Dillon Farrell is also going to be in the mix giving that the team was comfortable keeping him on the roster last year.
The draft is now officially behind us, and the 49ers have added two draft picks and an undrafted free agent to the offensive line. The team added Boston College offensive lineman Ian Silberman in the sixth round, Florida offensive lineman Trenton Brown in the seventh round, and Auburn offensive lineman Patrick Miller in undrafted free agency.
The 49ers clearly seem comfortable with their offensive line options heading into the 2015 season. This draft would seem to have showed us that Thomas is likely making excellent progress in his return from the ACL injury, and they are comfortable with their camp competition/depth in guys like Looney, Pears, Farrell and Kilgore/Martin. Silberman, Brown and Miller could certainly turn some heads in camp, but odds are not exactly in their favor of climbing into the starting lineup.
Silberman played tackle in college, but seems ticketed for a guard slot. Brown played a chunk of games at guard in 2014, but was more of a tackle prior to that. He said in his post-selection conference call that the team said they were looking at him as a tackle. Miller seems like a tackle, but there are concerns about his "core strength", which could short-circuit his chances at an NFL career. We will keep an eye on Miller, but given that he did not slip for off-field reasons like Alex Boone did, we won't really factor him into the offensive line competition this year. My guess is he is competing for a practice squad spot.
I imagine the 2015 season sees Thomas at left guard and Pears as the swing tackle. Joe Looney and the loser of the Marcus Martin/Daniel Kilgore competition would be a potential utility interior lineman. I don't see Martin or Kilgore going anywhere, so Looney is likely fighting for just a roster spot this year. He has the benefit of having gotten playing time at both guard and center, but if there is a number crunch, I'm not sure I like his chances.
I would not be surprised to see the 49ers try and ticket both Silberman and Brown to the practice squad because I'm just not sure I see the 49ers offensive line having room for another body. Last year coming out of camp, they did go with a backup tackle (Jonathan Martin), a backup guard (Joe Looney, once Alex Boone was activated), and two backup centers (Marcus Martin and Dillon Farrell). Do Silberman OR Brown get a spot this year? My guess is no, but we are still learning about both of them. And given the team's long-term need with Alex Boone likely hitting free agency next year, there is certainly some kind of need long-term.