The San Francisco 49ers offensive line coach, John Benton, spoke to the media during OTAs and discussed the competition on the offensive line. The one constant is left tackle Joe Staley, who Benton couldn’t compliment enough. Otherwise, it’s an open competition at every spot on the line.
The competition is not just between less experienced players. Benton commented that bringing in seven year veteran Brandon Fusco and and sixth year Tim Barnes can only make guys better. Adding players to the mix who have had quality careers is a positive.
Benton spoke to us after a practice where the offensive line allowed five “sacks” which he replied “is unacceptable.” He added that it’s part of the learning process but there have been practices where they have played much better as well.
Part of finding consistency on the line will come with determining what players will play in each spot. Jeremy Zuttah was rotating with Daniel Kilgore at center until Zuttah was hampered by a hamstring injury. Benton says it’s not serious but they don’t want to aggravate it. Zuttah is “chomping at the bit” to get out on the field again but he probably will remain out of team drills until training camp.
Benton scouted Joshua Garnett when he was at Stanford and liked how he played at left guard. Garnett, who has been playing on both sides during the offseason program, originally looked better at right guard to Benton. This is likely because he consistently played on the right side throughout 2016. After rotating back and forth, Benton says the second year guard now looks about even from one side to the next.
Benton has been trying to keep reps dead even between Garnett, Fusco and Zane Beadles at guard. They are the top three at that position. He’s looking for the most consistently productive player to start separating themselves from the pack. He explained that it’s difficult to determine when they aren’t playing “real football” (without pads) so the decision may have to be made during training camp.
With the exception of Staley, the offensive line came into the offseason program with some work to be done in regards to conditioning. Benton says the group has made good strides from the first day he saw them run, compared to how they look now. Weight, however, is not a specific make or break factor for a starting lineman. Benton said that his best lineman in Houston was 355 lbs. so it’s more “the jump” a player can get as opposed the weight.
Someone who Benton says has immense potential on the line is Trent Brown. When he first saw the tallest member of the offensive line he wasn’t sure if he had the “jump” he was looking for but now, he’s “positively optimistic” about Brown.
[Trent] has gotten in good shape, or much better shape since we got here. He was way up there weight wise, he’s lost some weight. He is an outstanding athlete, so I think he does fit the mold. I think he can do it. He just has to keep pushing, both his technique...he’ll have to be very efficient with his technique which he’s working on very hard right now and continue to stay in prime condition. [Those] will be the key factors for him. But if he can do that, I’m very excited about Trent and what he can do. If a player can do what we want them to do from an athletic standpoint, and has the size and power of Trent Brown, now we have something really special. So, very excited about that.
Much of this sounds somewhat similar to last year’s offseason talk about the offensive line. Hopefully it doesn’t shape up the same way. Some new blood, another year of experience and a new offensive scheme will hopefully improve the group’s performance.