Rising stock: Boone making big impression at OT
There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the 49ers’ offensive line this week in training camp, and not for all the right reasons. After a preseason opener that saw San Francisco allow six QB sacks, there’s been understandable scrutiny of a unit the 49ers have been attempting to upgrade for what seems like a decade. Here’s a look at whose stock is on the way up and on the way down along the O-line.
LT/RT Alex Boone: “I think after that first game’s performance I showed that I can play the left side and back up Joe,” Boone said this week. And it is true. Boone, San Francisco’s tallest player and one of its most intriguing line prospects, entered last week’s 24-3 loss to New Orleans late in the first half in place of starter Joe Staley at left tackle and generally had a strong performance, certainly one of the best of any 49ers offensive linemen during a shaky performance by the unit to open the exhibition season. Boone has been brought along slowly since joining the Niners in 2009, but he now appears ready for the larger role being thrust upon him this year, when the Niners hope he can step in as their No. 3 tackle. Or more. Boone has had a good training camp and obviously has benefitted from working daily against defenders with different skill sets such as Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. Boone is now being worked on both sides of the line, even getting some practice reps at right tackle that typically would belong to Anthony Davis as the 49ers look for that right mix of getting their best five offensive linemen on the field.
LG Daniel Kilgore: The rookie appears to be fitting nicely into the role the 49ers had envisioned for him when they selected Kilgore in the fifth round of the April draft. A tackle in college, Kilgore is catching on nicely as the primary backup to Mike Iupati at left guard, where he is seeing almost exclusive action. Kilgore played the entire second half there against the Saints after replacing Iupati and generally played well without any serious mishaps. Kilgore already has shown plenty in his quest to lock up a roster spot.
C Jonathan Goodwin: The 49ers have been taking the slow approach with Goodwin ever since signing him two weeks ago to a three-year deal worth almost $11 million. Goodwin, a Pro Bowler in 2009 with the Saints, wouldn’t have been awarded that kind of money by the team if he wasn’t here to start, but he still is practicing with the second-team offense this week. That doesn’t figure to last much longer as Goodwin gradually picks up the system and rounds into shape. A natural fit at center, Goodwin played with both the first- and second-team lines against the Saints and could be ready to start working in regularly with the first unit at any time. That is as it should be, because Goodwin looks like the best center on the roster.
LT Joe Staley: Staley hasn’t lost grip on his standing as San Francisco’s best tackle and, probably, the team’s best offensive lineman overall. He has taken on a leadership role on both the line in particular and the team in general, and his veteran experience shows regularly in practice. He is locked in as the starter at left tackle. He had a few rocky moments in pass protection against the Saints, allowing some pressure on the edge, but the conspicuous sack when Alex Smith got hammered on San Francisco’s first offensive series wasn’t all Staley’s fault.
OG/C Tony Wragge: The seventh-year veteran has looked this summer pretty much like the same guy who was a dependable backup and fill-in starter at the interior line positions for the 49ers the past five seasons. Wragge has been working at right guard behind Chilo Rachal but also has seen some snaps at center. He saw action at both positions with the reserve units against the Saints and put forth a generally solid effort despite being flagged for a false start.
LG Mike Iupati: He carries the look of a potential Pro Bowler in the run game, but Iupati still has some recognition problems in pass protection, which were evident against New Orleans when his apparent missed assignments led to a couple of New Orleans sacks. Iupati will continue to work on that flaw in his game as he is locked in as the starter at left guard and faces no challenge to his position, despite the solid development of rookie Daniel Kilgore behind him.
RG/OT Derek Hall: Came to the 49ers as an undrafted rookie after starting all 13 games at right tackle last year at Stanford. A converted defensive lineman, Niners coaches must have seen something in Hall at Stanford that suggested he could play inside at the NFL level, because he has been working mostly at guard in training camp despite originally being listed by the team as a tackle. Hall has been competitive in training camp and got his shot at right guard late in the third quarter against the Saints, providing a few noticeable blocks in the run game.
RT Mike Person: After suggesting when Person was drafted in the seventh round this year that they’d try him at the interior line positions, the 49ers instead put Person at his college position of tackle when training camp began and he has remained there ever since. He’s not physically imposing and will need to add some strength at the position, but he held up at right tackle in New Orleans, where he got a good taste of the NFL level while facing some challenges holding the edge.
C/RG Adam Snyder: Besides some recurring problems with the snap exchange, Snyder appeared to be transitioning comfortably to center this summer. But then came a real game in New Orleans, and Snyder was pushed back several times, appearing to have problems gaining leverage after the snap before defenders engaged him. He still is working as the first-team center, but those days appear numbered with the 49ers grooming Jonathan Goodwin as the likely starter for the season opener. Snyder is now getting some practice work at right guard, where he seriously challenged Chilo Rachal for playing time over the last half of last season and could again this year. Snyder is more likely to help the 49ers this year as a guard rather than at center.
RT Kenny Wiggins: The undrafted rookie from Fresno State looks the part at 6-foot-6 and 314 pounds and has not embarrassed himself in training camp, but he remains buried on the tackle depth chart and saw no significant action against the Saints.
RT Anthony Davis: Has had a steady camp, better than his rookie summer last year, but did not stand out in the opener against the Saints, getting beaten conspicuously for a sack in the first quarter despite getting a jump on the play during which he should have been called for a false start. The 49ers aren’t over-reacting, but they did send Davis a message this week when Alex Boone started getting some reps at right tackle, where Davis has been the clear starter ahead of rookies Mike Person and Kenny Wiggins, who are listed behind him on the depth chart.
RG/LG Nick Howell: After finishing his rookie season last year on San Francisco’s practice squad, Howell’s summer looked promising when he got first-team reps at right guard during the first few days of training camp. But he has fallen to third on the depth chart since then and did not play a single snap in the exhibition opener.
C Chase Beeler: The undrafted rookie didn’t play until the very end of Friday’s preseason opener and appears to have fallen behind versatile veteran Tony Wragge as the team’s third choice at center behind Jonathan Goodwin and Adam Snyder. Beeler had a poor snap to Colin Kaepernick in shotgun formation that resulted in a 10-yard loss on San Francisco’s final offensive possession of the game.
RG Chilo Rachal: The fourth-year veteran’s hold on the starting position at right guard might not exactly be tenuous, but it could be close to getting there. Rachal still flashes the potential that made him San Francisco’s second-round draft pick in 2008, but he started slowly in camp this summer and has seemingly not done much to impress the team’s new coaching staff. His struggles in pass protection, the area where Rachal most needs to improve, remained evident in the preseason opener and he allowed one sack while playing deep into the second quarter. The 49ers have begun working Adam Snyder into the practice rotation at right guard, which can be construed as not a good sign for Rachal or the team’s confidence in him.
C/G/T Donovan Edwards: This undrafted rookie is in no-man’s land as he came to the 49ers from Cal as a guard/center prospect but was listed as a third-string tackle when the 49ers released their first depth chart of 2011 last week. There has not been a lot of practice reps for him along the line and he looks too small to play tackle. Edwards did not see any action on offense against the Saints.