The offensive line is the one position group that probably keeps Kyle Shanahan awake at night. While the 49ers have solidified their starters at both tackle positions, every interior position seems to be up for grabs through six days of training camp.
For the offensive linemen, it’s hard to evaluate their performance in camp against the defensive line until pads come on. But there’s been one interior lineman that has received high praise for his performance so far, and that’s rookie Spencer Burford.
Coming into August, the combination at center and right guard was heavily debated on the outside — whether it would be Jake Brendel and Daniel Brunskill or Daniel Brunskill and a rookie at those two positions.
Based on all the individual and team drills, it’s safe to say Burford’s holding down the right guard role for now. He’s been impressive based on accounts provided by Niners Nation’s Kyle Posey and Jordan Elliott — who have been on hand for the first six days of training camp.
His 6-foot-5, 295-pound frame slots well at right guard, while his athleticism and agility should allow him to move well in this scheme.
Kyle Shanahan spoke at length a few days ago about Burford’s performance thus far, and I thought his positive reviews were fairly telling:
“We saw when we drafted him; we liked his ability to run. We thought he was a very good scheme fit for us. When it comes to our run game, you’ve got to be able to move very well, and then when it comes to the pass game, it’s quick feet and length, and he has both of those things.”
This is also in line with how I believe Kyle Shanahan philosophically views the offensive. Throughout his tenure in San Francisco, Shanahan and his front office have valued tackles and centers — routinely spending a premium at those positions while supplementing the guard spots with bargain-bin signings or late-round draft picks.
That being said, I can’t see the 49ers’ head coach turning over the center role to one of the undrafted rookies, so I imagine it’ll be a competition between Brendel and Brunskill — without the latter eventually winning out. This means the right-guard job (previously held by Brunskill) will be between Burford, Jaylon Moore, Jason Poe, and Dohnovan West.
Given that Burford’s held down the spot so far, I say he’s on track to win the role if he keeps performing this way. Trent Williams also spoke highly of the rookie, adding that he and Poe were the only two rookie linemen that took advantage of Williams’ open invitation to work out with him in Houston.
The offensive line should certainly give the 49ers’ coaching staff some pause, especially given how interior pressure has been a thorn on their side the last few seasons. But Burford’s hot start out of the gates should be a delight given his draft status.