Kyle Shanahan was generally pleased with Laken Tomlinson’s first game for the 49ers, and after suffering through Zane Beadles’ stylings at left guard in game one, why wouldn’t he be? He had this to say in his Monday post-game conference call.
“Yeah, he did do a good job. I was definitely pleased with him. He needs to keep getting better and I hope that he does the more that he's here. But, in his first game with the limited time he had, he didn't have many mistakes from an assignment standpoint. He still needs to continue to get better with his techniques and things that we're asking him to do. But, especially in his first game and not being here throughout the offseason, I thought he did a good job.”
But offensive linemen in Shanahan’s scheme need to do more than push people on runs and slow down pass rushers. The technically complex outside zone run play is a key element of this offense, and some Lions fans on Reddit had flagged it as Tomlinson’s biggest weakness. Uh-oh.
So how did the newcomer do? By my count, the Niners ran six OZRs out of 19 running plays, plus a seventh that was called back for holding (on center Daniel Kilgore). Results were mixed — the plays gained 20 combined yards, with two six-yard gains matched by zero and one yard on two other plays. (The penalized play picked up five).
Given that he was very new to this scheme, Tomlinson did pretty well. Here’s a play by play breakdown.
1) 8:38 in the first period. 1st and 10 at San Francisco’s 15 (first play of the drive).
Rough start. The run went to the right, so Tomlinson was trailing and actually had no one to block for a while. He needed to pick up linebacker K.J. Wright at the second level, and should have sealed him off back to his left. Wright brushed him aside and made the tackle after a four yard gain, which could have been much more
2) 4:32 in the second quarter. 1st and 10 from SF 11, again first play of drive.
Very good on this run to the left, effective blocks with good push on both the first and second level.
3) 13:33 in the third. 1st and 10 from SF 38, after one first down in the drive.
Shanahan didn’t run his third OZR until the second half, so he may not have been sure himself what Tomlinson would do on these plays. He had no one to block up front on this run to the left, so Laken locked up on LB Bobby Wagner. It would have been ideal to drive Wagner away from the play, but the veteran went to his knees. Tomlinson drove him into the turf but it looks like Wagner got an arm on Hyde that slowed him down as he went by. Three yard gain.
4) 12:54 in the 3rd, the very next play. 2nd and 7 at the SF 41.
He was very good on this run to the left. It only picked up a yard, but not because of Tomlinson, who pushed Sheldon Richardson back effectively.
Is this getting a little dry? Here’s a fun GIF of Carlos Hyde’s 61-yard run. It wasn’t outside zone, but the entire line did a great job of selling a run to the right before Hyde went left, and Tomlinson put solid blocks on two different defenders.
Just two more, hang in there....
5) 14:25 left in the fourth. 2nd and 2 at the 50-yard line. Second series of the drive.
Not great. The new left guard whiffed on blocking Nazair Jones, but then turned around pretty well and chipped Jones enough for Hyde to break his tackle and pick up six yards. Like his other bad play, this one was moving to the right and Tomlinson just didn’t get enough burst to reach the man he needed to block.
6) 7:01 in the fourth. 1st and 10 at the SF 20 at the start of a key drive.
The play failed, gaining nothing, but it’s not on Tomlinson. He was solid.
All in all Laken was solid on outside zone runs against an excellent defense. With coaching on technqiue, there is an excellent chance he could be very good in this offense.
And in any case, he’s much better than Zane Beadles.