Should the 49ers be worried about the offensive line?

Luck is a factor in all sports, especially football. More than any other game, injuries play a major part in a team’s fortune given the violent nature of the NFL. Because of that, the roster has to be lucky in order to get through a season without injuries taking their toll at one or more positions.

Since players are so susceptible to injuries that can shorten their careers, it’s not uncommon to see holdouts in camp of those attempting to gain leverage in getting a new contract. It’s worth the risk for them, since the additional financial compensation provides a safety blanket should a career-ending injury take place.

Sometimes, the issues of injuries and holdouts can create a perfect storm that has a negative ripple effect through a certain position group, and the San Francisco 49ers are in the midst of that now.

The team had been lucky with the health of their offensive line since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2011.

Tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis, as well as center Jonathan Goodwin started all 48 regular season games the past three seasons. Chilo Rachal and Adam Snyder each spent time with the first team at right guard in 2011 (and were healthy), while Alex Boone has started every game since. The only exception has been Mike Iupati who missed four games in 2013, but had started every game in his career up until then.

That means that the 49ers had their complete starting o-line intact for 44 out of 48 games from 2011-2013, and those four games were missed by one player in one season. That’s a pretty remarkable streak.

However, despite the consistency, there may now be some cracks in what was arguably the deepest and most reliable unit on the team.

It all starts with the fact that Alex Boone is still holding out for a new deal, and there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight. The 49ers as a franchise don’t believe in negotiating with players who are absent from camp, and Boone reportedly has no intention to show up any time soon.

It’s possible that he could be traded, or his absence could go deep into the season. Either way, the 49ers look to be without their starting right guard for the foreseeable future. In his place is the unproven Joe Looney, who struggled in his first preseason action. Looney did play well when called upon briefly in 2013, but has never started an NFL game.

San Francisco also has the option of going back to Snyder, who filled for Iupati last season. Snyder, however, recently suffered a left knee injury although it is believed to be minor. Any injury at this point would leave an already thin unit of guards looking even more vulnerable at the moment.

At tackle, Davis is still waiting to be cleared for practice after undergoing a shoulder procedure in April. Without Davis, free agent pickup Jonathan Martin is getting the first team reps. Davis should be okay for Week 1, but who knows if he’ll be 100 percent. It could take him some time to get his strength and timing back.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, the Niners are also trying to break in a new center. With Goodwin no longer with the team, there is a competition in camp between Daniel Kilgore and rookie Marcus Martin for the spot. Kilgore looks to be the favorite, but either way, it will mean the unit will have someone new making the line calls.

2014 has a Super Bowl-or-bust feel to it as the 49ers have been excruciatingly close to a title recently but haven’t been able to seal the deal. If they have any chance to finally climb the mountain, the offensive line will have to be its stable self. There’s still time for it all to come together, but as for right now, it’s fair to be a little concerned.

Photo: Paul Sakuma/AP






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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a contributor to 49erswebzone.com and Ninerfans.com. He's been a guest on numerous podcasts and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY.


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