The San Francisco 49ers signed a handful of undrafted free agents this offseason, and the most interesting signing had to be Alex Balducci. The team signed the Oregon defensive line product in order to convert him over to the offensive line. What’s most fascinating is that they gave the most guaranteed money among their 12 UDFA signings.
Chip Kelly, Joshua Garnett, and DeForest Buckner were all asked about Balducci’s performance thus far in his conversion to the offensive line. Kelly mentioned that other teams had been in touch about a similar conversion, so it would seem like this was an expected move.
Joe Staley said if he had not been told Balducci was moving from defensive line to offensive line, he never would have known. He thinks his footwork and technique is looking really solid thus far. His Oregon teammate DeForest Buckner, and former Stanford rival Joshua Garnett both think he’s doing solid work, with Buckner suggesting he looks like a natural on that side of the ball. When players are thinking you look like a natural in that conversion, that’s certainly a good thing.
Reports have been very positive about Balducci. He has worked at center and guard thus far, albeit down the depth chart. He'll likely get plenty of playing time in the preseason, and while it will probably be primarily second half against fellow lower depth chart players, it will be important in his attempt to become an NFL offensive linemen.
What made OL Alex Balducci a better fit at offensive line in the NFL than defensive line?
“I just think he has the skillset. And when we recruited him at Oregon we thought about playing him in both positions. He preferred to play defense at that point in time, so usually you kind of let them go where they want to go unless he doesn’t have the ability to go play it. A guy can say, ‘Hey I want to be a quarterback,’ but if he can’t throw, he’s probably going to go play another position. But, Alex is kind of built prototypical offensive lineman. I think he’s got really good feet and is very athletic, so I think it was a natural maneuver. And a lot of other teams had worked him out at his pro day at offensive line and he had heard from other people. So, we weren’t the only team that was interested in him as an offensive lineman. I think everybody was talking to him about being an offensive lineman.”
It didn’t take any convincing on your part?
“No. I mean, I think when we had reached out to him, he had already been in touch with other teams that had discussed the same possibility with him.”
“He’s doing really well. I mean I would never have known that he was coming from d-line. I actually didn’t know until he had until a week after he was here. His footwork, because a lot of the stuff is like, I feel like coming from different positions, especially from defensive line to offensive line is different as far as footwork, and offensive line is such a technical position. And he’s got a lot of that stuff down from day one. That’s a testament to his hard work, and a testament to the coaching he’s had before the draft, when he got here. And yea, it’s been encouraging. He’s playing center too, so he’s picking up the stuff, he’s learning the playbook, learning the calls. I mean that’s pretty taxing mentally as far as the position to come in and learn when you’ve never played it. So, excited about him.”
Did you go up much against [49ers rookie Center Alex] Balducci?
Oh yeah, definitely. When we played against Oregon, I'd go against Balducci, DeForest [49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner] those were guys I went against all the time.
Now that you see him now as an offensive lineman what's your thought on how he made that transition?
He's been doing well. He's a guy who works hard. I could tell when I watched the film at Oregon that he's a hard worker. He's going to come ready to play everyday and he's really transitioned back to the offensive line and I feel like he's done a great job.
On facing former DL now OL Alex Balducci:
Yea, it was weird the first couple days going against Ducci. Just because he’s been on my side the past four years, and going against him when he was at guard, it’s different. But can’t let up because he’s my friend. It’s still competition. He makes me better, and I make him better every day.
On if he’s seen growth in Balducci on OL:
Oh yea, definitely. He’s looking like a natural, to be honest, at guard. He’s working every day at his craft. For the short period of time he’s been playing o-line, he’s looking good.