Training camp kicks off in eight days, and while we don’t know if the NFL will have a plan in place where players feel safe enough to report, we’ll continue as if training camp will happen. Today, we’ll talk about one of the more important training camp battles: swing tackle. The 49ers drafted Colton McKivitz in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. McKivitz has experience at both guard and tackle. The 49ers also have Justin Skule, who started four games in 2019 for San Francisco. The group’s veteran is Shon Coleman, who missed all of 2019 after being injured after four snaps in Week 2 of the preseason. The wild card here is Daniel Brunskill, who is competing to start at right guard as well.
Trent Williams will start at left tackle, but he hasn’t played 16 games since 2013. On the other side, Mike McGlinchey doesn’t have a significant injury history, but we saw last season that anything could happen. This means the players listed above all could be called upon at any moment. Who deserves to be first, though? Let’s make an argument for each.
The rookies’ job to lose?
McKivitz’s versatility gives him a leg up to make the roster. He started at both tackle spots during his collegiate career and played some guard at the Senior Bowl. His athleticism was below average compared to the rest of the lineman at the NFL combine, though:
40-yard dash: 5.35 (36th out of 41)
Bench Press: 20 reps (t-35th out of 38)
Vertical Jump: 26.0 inches (t-26th out of 36)
Broad Jump: 106 inches (t-22nd out of 35)
Shuttle: 5.00 (22nd out of 26)
3-cone drill: 7.87 (11th out of 25)
Only McKivitz’s 3-cone time was above average.
McKivitz won’t have the luxury of months of practices against the 49ers defensive linemen, so he may be a bit behind when practices start, which could ultimately hurt his chances.
Taken to Skule
The sixth-rounder out of Vanderbilt played “starter snaps” in seven games last year and played 545 snaps, so we could get a good idea of the type of player Skule is and can be. Younger players don’t truly get exposed until they face a “superstar.” Early in the game against the Rams in Week 6, Skule faced Aaron Donald as an edge rusher and gave up a sack. When Skule was asked to block Chandler Jones for an entire game, it wasn’t pretty.
Skule finished the season, giving up 13 blown blocks against the pass—five resulting in sacks—, and three against the run. He also had six penalties. Skule doesn’t move particularly well, and that’s likely why the 49ers drafted the more athletic McKivitz. Skule’s rookie audition didn’t go very well, but he was thrown into the fire with very little preparation. Skule must improve if he’s going to make the roster, let alone win the swing-tackle job.
Relying on the vet
Coleman was inactive in each game in 2018 and was placed on injured reserve in 2019 after being injured in the preseason after only a few plays against the Cowboys. Pro Football Focus graded Coleman as a 61 overall when he started with the Browns in 2017. That is below average. He graded a bit better as a rookie, but he also only played 62 snaps. Kyle Shanahan saw a fit in Coleman early on, which is why the team felt comfortable bringing him back on a one-year extension. For a backup, Coleman is a very good pass protector. Physically, Coleman is superior to Skule and McKivitz. Experience also helps, but he has to stay healthy. Although Coleman has the experience, he’s proven nothing to San Francisco, and that’s why the youngsters have a shot.
Let’s say there is an injury at tackle. The most logical thing to do would be to continue cross-training Brunskill at tackle, and he slides over to replace whoever is hurt, while Tom Compton or Ben Garland play right guard. The downside to that is you are creating two new starters, but the upside is you ensure the five best linemen are on the field.
Brunskill played 483 snaps last year compared to Joe Staley’s 445 snaps. Brunskill had 10 total-blown blocks and allowed 1.5 sacks, while Staley allowed 11 blown blocks with 1.5 sacks. Brunskill also only committed one penalty. I’m not saying Brunskill was as good as Staley. I am saying he was a lot better than fans realize. Brunskill is the team’s “safest” option.