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49ers bubble watch: Offensive line features a lot of competition

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The San Francisco 49ers have questions at almost every position while they work to figure out their 53-man roster. We’ll break down the bubble watch for each one. Today we look at the offensive line.

The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up minicamp last week, and return for training camp in just over five weeks. The roster appears to be just about set, so with that in mind, it is time to re-visit the bubble watch. The offseason workout program does not lock in most roster spots, and that is even more the case this season with a new coaching staff and front office.

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to take a look at each position, and what the bubble watch looks like. As we’ve done for many years now, the bubble watch breaks down to lock, strong bubble, weak bubble, and longshot. For some positions, we'll have multiple players listed at strong bubble, even though not all are likely to make the roster. But the idea is that they both stand a good shot, even if it is just one of them. Additionally, this does not reflect whether or not a player will be traded. Trades can and probably will happen during training camp, but the positioning on this focuses on whether or not they’d be cut.

We move on to the offensive line.

Lock: Joe Staley, Jeremy Zuttah
Strong Bubble: Zane Beadles, Joshua Garnett, Brandon Fusco, Daniel Kilgore, Trent Brown, Garry Gilliam
Weak Bubble: Tim Barnes, John Theus, Erik Magnuson
Longshot: Norman Price, Andrew Lauderdale, JP Flynn, Richard Levy, Darrell Williams

The 49ers offensive line has struggled the past three years. Injuries have been a big issue, with the team rotating players in and out regularly. However, the team has struggled to adequately replace at least three of the five positions. Joshua Garnett, Daniel Kilgore, and Zane Beadles all find themselves competing with Brandon Fusco and Jeremy Zuttah for a spot in the starting lineup. I suspect at least two of the first three make the team, and it could very well be all three, but none if a lock at this point. Garnett would be the closest given his recent draft status, but with a new coaching staff and front office, and the rookie wage scale minimizing costs to some extent, he still has to earn it in the new-look offense.

Trent Brown and Garry Gilliam are competing for the right tackle job. Brown seems like he would be better suited for more of a power scheme, but for the time being he is getting first team snaps at right tackle. Training camp and preseason games will tell us more. Where it gets interesting for those two is given Zane Beadles ability to play all five positions, does the loser of Brown vs. Gilliam potentially lose his roster spot if he is not sufficiently cross-trained elsewhere?

The weak bubble group features a veteran addition in Barnes, a returning second year player in Theus, and a UDFA addition in Magnuson. I could see one of them securing the last reserve spot for the offensive line, but I don’t really know which one it will be.

There is a lot of competition at four of the five offensive line positions, but there are few clear long-term answers. Staley isn’t going anywhere this year, but just about anybody else could find themselves cut by the end of training camp. I was tempted to list Zuttah as a strong bubble, but I just don’t see him going anywhere The center is always important, but Kyle Shanahan has done big things when he gets a center he likes. Alex Mack in Cleveland and Atlanta are the two best examples. I don’t think Zuttah is a Mack-level center, but he would seem to be the guy Shanahan wants to build with. Even with no guaranteed money moving forward on his contract, I just don’t see him getting cut.