Daniel Brunskill hasn’t participated during the OTAs or early on in mandatory minicamp, which means Jake Brendel has been handling the duties at center. Trey Lance, Kyle Shanahan, and Trent Williams all commented on how they feel Brendel has performed.
The undrafted free agent out of UCLA tested above average across the board coming out of college back in 2016. Athleticism is a necessity to excel at center, and Brendel checked every box.
He wouldn’t be in the Bay Area if not for offensive line coach Chris Foerster, according to Shanahan:
“Jake made our team last year as our backup center and if you do that, you better believe that all backup guys have the ability to start. And then when they get that opportunity, how long can they do it for? But we had a lot of confidence in Jake last year to make the team. And if Mack would have ever missed a game or something, we wouldn’t have hesitated and we would have gone into that game very confident with him.
Chris is the one brought him to our attention. Just him having him in Miami. He was a big fan of his there. We got him in, I believe during the COVID year, he had some things that he opted out, went right down to that last minute. We were able to get him back and last year was our first year with him and yeah, Chris talked highly of him and he’s been better than advertised.”
That’s high praise for a player who played four snaps last year and hasn’t started a game since 2018. Brendel turns 30 this September and will have only played 219 snaps for his career by the time the season begins.
Despite the on-field inexperience, Lance pointed out that Brendel, or whoever plays center, handles all of the pre-snap protections:
“Yeah, Jake handles it honestly for the most part. That’s kind of how our offense works. There’s things that we can do from a quarterback standpoint, but for the most part, the center is making the calls every play. Past that, I got to spend a lot of time with Jake.
Obviously, I took all my reps pretty much with Jake and [QB] Jimmy [Garoppolo] was with [C] Alex [Mack] last year. Obviously sad, I wanted to play with Alex for sure, but I’m super excited for Jake. Jake’s three lockers down from me. We’re together, one of the first two guys in every morning, Jake is and I know he’s one of the last guys to leave, so he works super hard and his athletic ability is one thing I think that stands out about him.”
Lance practicing with the same center for the second year in a row means something. I’m curious whether that familiarity or continuity plays a part in the decision on whether Brendel has the leg up on Brunskill or one of the first-year centers.
Of course, how you perform when Javon Kinlaw is lined up in front of you will play a larger factor, as will Brendel’s ability to pick up the blitz or reach a defensive tackle in the running game.
The Athletic’s David Lombardi asked Williams if he was aware Brendel tested in the 90th percentile athletically, and Trent’s response was, “that’s why he’s here:”
To be in this offense, you have to be an athletic offensive lineman. Jake is definitely an athlete. Definitely a quick-twitch guy that makes him a great center.
Brendel is a player that sounds like we have to pay attention to. If the team had confidence in him last year, with no other veterans on the roster, center could be Brendel’s spot to lose. Of course, a vote of confidence from the starting quarterback doesn’t hurt.