Offensive line struggles continue to hold 49ers back

The 49ers saw an ugly day in Santa Clara Friday afternoon.

But the grey clouds and periodic stretches of rain that loomed were not to blame. Instead, the source of sorrow came courtesy of the San Francisco offensive line, which put forth a forgettable effort seven days into camp.

From top to bottom, the O-line was simply overwhelmed. Aside from five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, every offensive lineman either blew a pass protection or failed to provide adequate blocking for run plays. Some even exhibited lapses in both instances.

One lineman who had a particularly rough day was right guard, Brandon Fusco. Matching up against former first-round pick Arik Armstead, Fusco was easily overpowered and subsequently gave up several sacks. Fellow guard Joshua Garnett found his fair share of problems against 49er pass rushers as he too gave up a number of quarterback pressures and even sacks.

The most troubling sight, however, came from the lack of success the 49ers experienced running the ball. In over 30 rushing plays called, only one gained over 5 yards. That singular play was a designed run up the middle for rookie running back Joe Williams, who broke down the right sideline for a touchdown.

Williams touched on the otherwise unproductive day rushing the ball:

“What’s today, practice five or six? We’re still feeling out the defense and feeling out each other and the scheme. Coach Shanahan goes over the whole game plan with us every day and gives us the right mindset and we’re going to get better every day.”

As Williams mentioned, it is only the first week of camp so the growing pains of reconstructing a vastly sub-par offensive line from last season are to be expected. But some of the team believe that much of the group’s shortcomings actually stem from what could be the 49ers biggest strength come week 1 as Kyle Shanahan alluded to this after practice:

“They’re going up against a pretty good D-Line so that’s going to be a challenge all the time. We have some depth on that D-line too. I think our 2’s and 3’s on the D-Line are a little different (from) our 2’s and 3’s on the O-Line. It’s a challenge for those guys but it’s definitely going to make them all better.”

Based on recent practice rotations the current offensive lineman depth chart is as follows:

Left tackle: (starter) Staley, (2nd string) John Theus, (3rd) Darrell Williams

Left guard: (starter) Garnett, (2nd) Zane Beadles, (3rd) JP Flynn

Center: (starter) Daniel Kilgore, (2nd) Jeremy Zuttah, (3rd) Tim Barnes

Right guard: (starer) Fusco, (2nd) Richard Levy, (3rd) Erik Magnuson

Right tackle: (starer) Trent Brown, (2nd) Garry Gilliam, (3rd) Norman Price, (4th) Andrew Lauderdale

So far, starters have held firm throughout practice while the remaining ten linemen have fluctuated between second and third units. The latter groups should stabilize by the third preseason game, and starters should be officially decided by then as well according to Shanahan:

“You always try to treat that third game as close to Week 1 as possible. So, you try to put those guys out there by there. But, there’s been plenty of times where we still haven’t decided going into a fourth game and we want to rest the starters going into the fourth game. We’ve had to play starters before because we need more time to decide. The sooner the better, but we’ve got some good competition out there so I can’t tell you how quick it’ll happen.”

As battles for spots continue and the offensive scheme is slowly introduced, the hope of the team is to see the offensive line come together. But if camp continues go bad for the O-Line, many of the 16 candidates could be unemployed by the time Week 1 hits.