It is not a simple task ranking out the many position battles the San Francisco 49ers will sort through in 2015 training camp. Whether we're talking talking wide receivers, cornerbacks, defensive line, running backs, or offensive line, there is importance across the board. And so, instead of ranking them, we're just going to go through them one at a time. Today, we look at the offensive line.
The 49ers have had significant turnover on their offensive line for the first time in several years. Mike Iupati departed in free agency, and then Anthony Davis surprised us with his decision to retire. Add in Daniel Kilgore still recovering from his lower leg injury, and the 49ers suddenly find themselves trying to figure out as many as four positions on the offensive line.
Participants: Alex Boone, Daniel Kilgore, Marcus Martin, Joe Looney, Brandon Thomas, Erik Pears, Dillon Farrell, Andrew Tiller, Ian Silberman, Trenton Brown, Patrick Miller, Sean Hooey, Ben Gottschalk, Justin Renfrow
The only certainty on the line is that Joe Staley will be starting at left tackle. Alex Boone will be on the line, but we don't really know where for certain. He got work at left guard in minicamp, and if he sticks at guard, this actually makes sense. Boone has served as Joe Staley's backup, replacing him a couple times when Staley dealt with brief in-game injuries. It makes sense to have him on the left side so that the transition over is not quite as big a change as moving from right guard to left tackle. And with Mike Iupati gone, it is an easy move.
However, there is also the question of Erik Pears. He is definitely not a great offensive lineman, but he could be a very serviceable option. He was working at right guard when Alex Boone and Anthony Davis were both absent from OTAs. However, at minicamp, he moved to right tackle once the 49ers knew Davis was not returning.
Daniel Kilgore opened training camp on the PUP list, and we don't know when he will return. During minicamp and OTAs, Marcus Martin and Joe Looney split time at center, with Martin getting right guard work at minicamp. Brandon Thomas seems like a long-term guard option as well, but he is coming off a year spent on the NFI list.
Prediction: This comes down to one significant question: will Kilgore be ready to play before the season starts? My prediction at this point is split between yes and no. If Kilgore is healthy, my prediction would be him at center, Marcus Martin at right guard. If Kilgore is not ready, I am starting to think we could see Looney open the season at center, and Martin at right guard. I think Brandon Thomas has a long-term role with this team, but if Kilgore is out, he could develop into the swing interior lineman, and then move into the lineup if and when Boone departs next year as a free agent.
My prediction is not what I think could be an ideal offensive line. My preference would would be to see Boone at right tackle, Thomas at left guard, Kilgore at center and Martin at right guard. Pears could serve as the swing tackle, and Looney could serve as the swing interior lineman. Although, if we're talking ideal, Trenton Brown would quickly emerge up the depth chart as the swing tackle. I'm not holding my breath on that, but it's one option.