The 49ers’ 2020 season is one that fans and members of the organization alike are eager to put in the rearview mirror. Unfortunately, after a myriad of injuries, a once-promising campaign ended with a disappointing 6-10 record.
While the defense remained a top-five unit, the offense took a significant step back from its dominant 2019 season. The lack of consistent quarterback play was surely the driving force behind this. Also, shouldering a large portion of the blame was an inconsistent season from the offensive line as a whole. As the 49ers enter a highly anticipated 2021 season, the offense will look to rebound behind the strength of a revamped offensive line. Lost among the shuffle of a hectic offseason were the additions of center Alex Mack and guard Aaron Banks. These additions and the extension of stalwart, left tackle Trent Williams, have the unit set up for some much-needed continuity.
Dependability at the center position
A year removed from starting three players at the center position, the 49ers welcome Mack with open arms. A slam dunk move by the front office to bring in a veteran player with experience in Kyle Shanahan’s system.
While he is getting up there in age, Mack has posted his best seasons in a Shanahan scheme. The consistent level of slightly above-average play is invaluable to a team that has had a revolving door at the position. In addition, Mack provides significant stability as a player who has logged over 1000 snaps in five of the last six seasons. The benefit of dependability from a position that has had anything but since Weston Richburg got hurt cannot be overstated. On top of his durability, Mack provides a level of veteran savvy that comes with his 12 years of NFL experience.
Upgrade on the right side of the line
The 49ers shocked the majority of the NFL world with their second-round selection of Notre Dame guard Aaron Banks. Banks is a mountain of a man, far from the prototypical Shanahan guard we’ve grown accustomed to. After years of opting for agile guards, Shanahan made a conscious effort to select an absolute behemoth.
The rookie has plenty of room to improve but his pass blocking prowess is beyond evident. Stabilizing the right guard spot has a trickle-down effect on the entire line, more specifically, right tackle Mike McGlinchey. Struggles in pass protection for McGlinchey have become a common narrative that has unfairly run rampant over the last year or so. While it’s easy for McGlinchey to get stuck with the blame, the required context clearly shows the instability and inconsistency at right guard had a significant impact on the pass blocking low lights his critics are quick to point to. The potential upgrade in Banks will significantly impact the perception of McGlinchey’s play in the 2021 season.
Consistency from the left
Trent Williams quickly became a fan favorite among 49er fans. No easy feat when you’re replacing a franchise icon like Joe Staley. Williams quickly displayed the talent that has garnered him the respect of being mentioned among the best tackles of his generation. After inking a lucrative six-year, $138 million extension, Williams is here to stay for the long haul.
Williams deservedly receives a great deal of praise, but the transcendent ability of Williams and, before him, Staley has overshadowed the play of left guard Laken Tomlinson. Since being acquired for a fifth-round pick in 2018, Tomlinson has been a model of durability.
Tomlinson has not missed a start in four seasons and only missed two snaps in all of the 2020 season. This dynamic tandem provides a steadiness that the entire line should hope to replicate.
The sum of all parts
The 49ers boast an offensive line that is laden with veteran experience and proven NFL talent. The only real question is what happens at the right guard spot. After watching the previous season unravel as soon as their starting quarterback was lost to injury, the front office has done a tremendous job building a line to protect whoever ends up under center to start the season.
Shanahan now has a unit he can depend on in the run and the passing game. The woes of worrying about the interior succumbing to pressure appear to be a concern of the past. Behind this reconstructed line, we will see the 49ers return to the high octane offense that helped propel them to a Super Bowl appearance in 2019.