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49ers need serious improvement from their guards

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The 49ers primary candidates at the guard positions did not fare well in pass blocking.

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The San Francisco 49ers added four veteran offensive lineman this offseason, signing Garry Gilliam, Brandon Fusco, and Tim Barnes, and trading for Jeremy Zuttah. They signed a host of UDFAs as well, but the primary competition will feature veterans vs. returning players.

Zuttah is competing with Daniel Kilgore at center, Gilliam is competing with Trent Brown at right tackle, and Tim Barnes is competing for a utility role. However, Brandon Fusco could be the name to watch when training camp arrives. The 49ers had three different first string offensive line groups in their practice on Tuesday. Joshua Garnett was the right guard for two of them, and Fusco was right guard for one.

Right now, Garnett and Zane Beadles appear to be getting a sizable chunk of the first string work. Fusco is in the mix, and whomever loses in the Zuttah/Kilgore competition could be in the mix as well. However, that trio of Garnett, Beadles, and Fusco have their work cut out for them, primarily in the pass blocking side of things.

Pro Football Focus has a signature stat called pass blocking efficiency. They describe it as follows

Making full use of our snap data and pressure tallies, plays spent in pass protection are compared to the total number of QB disruptions allowed by each player. The Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) formula weighs sacks a bit heavier than hits and hurries and produces a rating that reflects the most efficient pass blockers on a per-pass-blocking snap basis with scores closer to 100 being best.

Last season, Garnett ranked dead last in PBE among 61 guards with a minimum of 355 snaps. Beadles ranked second to last, and Fusco ranked No. 53. Fusco ranked No. 61 out of 62 guards in 2015.

There is a certain amount of subjectivity to any of the signature stats since it involves looking at film and making an assessment. Without a playbook to know who had what assignment, we can’t be certain that every assessment is going to be correct. That being said, PFF is fairly well respected in the NFL, and even if they miss some, ranking near the bottom suggests even with some misses, these guys were not exactly pass blocking demons.

The 49ers are making big changes to their offense, but will it be enough to get their guards on track? The offensive line is critical in general, but we’ve seen what Kyle Shanahan can do with a strong line. Atlanta had great success, but it was in Cleveland when the line was healthy for a stretch in 2014 that Shanahan really worked some magic with Brian Hoyer as his quarterback. That will be a key difference-maker this season.