The biggest question mark on the offensive line surrounds Jeremy Newberry. His health and ability to play at a high level this season has a direct impact on the entire line. Newberry is regarded as one of the best in the game, but has been battling knee injuries throughout his career. This off-season is no different. If Newberry is healthy, he will start at center, but if not, the departure of Brock Guiterez means the team has no bona fide back up center. Eric Heitmann, a guard, has been practicing at the position since last season and would be teams starter should Newberry be unavailable.
The competition on the offensive line is particularly important if Newberry is not healthy, because if he is, the starters will like fall with Newberry at center, Eric Heitmann and Justin Smiley at right and left guard respectively, and Kwame Harris and Jonas Jennings at right and left tackle respectively. The addition of Jennings via free agency this off-season, allows Kwame to move back to his natural spot on the right side. Within these spots, most of the players are versatile enough to be moved around, further some strong competition from some of the younger players, particularly rookies David Bass and Adam Snyder can make things quite interesting.
Second round pick, David Bass, comes to the 49ers having a tremendous college career. He’s regarded as one of the best inside lineman to come out of college in recent years, and can play all three inside line positions. The trick for Bass will be adjusting to the NFL. If Jeremy Newberry cannot play, and Heitmann is forced to move to the center position, Bass will find himself starting at guard as early as this season. Adam Snyder is a natural right tackle, can also play guard. His job will be to push Kwame Harris who has not fully emerged as the player the 49ers were hoping for when they drafted him. Snyder could break the starting line-up if he has a tremendous off-season, and is a little bit lucky.
Beyond the immediate competition the 49ers will be searching for some real quality depth to help protect their quarterback, and to open lanes for the running game. Rookie Patrick Estes is a tight end that the 49ers envision moving to tackle. He is a project player who will need to add muscle to his frame, and learn the position before he can take the field. Tim Provost is currently pencilled in as the number two left tackle. Scott Peters and Norm Katnik might be able to land a job at backup center if the 49ers feel they do not have adequate versatility if Newberry is out with his injury.
Most 49ers fans will remember Khiawatha Downey who was in training camp last season. Downey has multiple sclerosis but refuses to let that step in the way of his dream, playing in the NFL. Downey will continue to fight for a spot, no one will question his heart, and he might even squeak on to the roster this season.
The training camp competition along the offensive line will be fun to watch, but most importantly it will be crucial to assembling a unit that can dominate the line of scrimmage. The battle for depth positions, along with the health status of Jeremy Newberry will be the key areas to focus on this camp along the line.