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Shanahan explains why Aaron Banks didn’t play over Laken Tomlinson as a rookie

Shanahan said the 49ers knew they had a good player, but it’s difficult to unseat a veteran player

The 49ers are in the NFC Championship with two first-year starters at guard. That gets lost in the shuffle after what Brock Purdy’s accomplished or the effect Christian McCaffrey’s had offensively.

On Thursday, Kyle Shanahan spoke about his confidence level heading into the season in right guard Aaron Banks. Many on the outside assumed something was wrong with the 2021 second-round pick since he didn’t start as a rookie. Shanahan explained why that wasn’t the case:

No, we had [New York Jets OL] Laken Tomlinson in the last year of his contract, ended up getting I think like a $14 million deal from the Jets and we had a starting right guard in [OL] Daniel Brunskill who we played with three years in a row and we thought he was doing pretty good and we thought we’d give Banks a little bit more time.

Tomlinson missed one game from 2017 through 2021. He was reliable and effective. However, Shanahan added how playing a player early in their career isn’t always beneficial to them:

I think that goes back to the beginning I answered a question of it’s really nice to be in a place that just worries about their best football decision and not, oh my god, they’re going to think we had a bad draft pick because you’re not playing him right away. Sometimes that ruins people. If someone would had got hurt we would’ve been pumped to play him right away.

We had a thought we had a pretty good guard, but it’s really hard to come in as a first-round pick, second-round pick, and just beat out solid NFL players who’ve been doing it for a while.

And if you don’t have to do that and you have to watch some guys and not get thrown into the fire and struggle for a few games and not get your confidence killed, I think that can be a benefit to a lot of people, but not everyone has that luxury and I’m glad that we had the talent to do that and I’m very happy I’m in a building that allows us to think that way.”

That’s a reasonable, level-headed answer that gives us an idea about how Shanahan and the 49ers look at the roster decisions.

Banks had his ups and downs during 2022. That was inevitable, but his growth was worth monitoring. The lightbulb seemed to come on around Week 6. Banks had a stretch of games where he seemingly turned the corner, but inconsistencies struck again around Week 13 before leaving Week 17 after 15 snaps against the Raiders.

Here’s Shanahan on how he thought Banks would assimilate to the NFL and if his ascension has been faster than anticipated:

“We thought he had the right mentality and we know we had the size. O-line is so different because you can look and have the ability, but o-line is about consistency and almost how many times you don’t mess up.

It’s cool to have all the highlight tapes and you know if you have a couple bad looks that might be all over social media and that might be embarrassing for you, but bad looks are bad looks, it’s about how you play over a course of 70 plays and you never really know that until a guy gets in there and sometimes they have to get their butts kicked before you even find out if they are a real player because you are going to get that in this league at every position, especially at O-line versus the D-lineman you go against and no one’s going to notice you really until you get your butt kicked.

And then it’s how you respond and that’s why we felt like we really believed in the person and believed in the talent, but just like I said about Brock, you have to put them out there and watch how they do and I think it was cool to watch him even in the preseason. He had a couple games where it wasn’t great, but once Week One started I thought he was better and Week Two was better and I think it’s improved that way throughout the whole year.”

To Shanahan’s point, the fact that we haven’t spent all week worrying about Banks or highlighting his lowlights speaks volumes.

Not unlike the 49ers, the Eagles can come at you in waves along the defensive line. Banks will face Jordan Davis, Milton Williams, Javon, Hargrave, and Fletcher Cox — all players that have proven they can get after the quarterback.

Sunday will undoubtedly be the biggest challenge of the season for Banks. But based on how he’s bounced back from getting his butt kicked on a play here and there throughout the season, Banks is up for the task.