Positional Analysis Offensive Line
January 29 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
The final edition of 49ers Paradise’s, 49ers Positional Analysis reports is dedicated to the 49ers offensive line. After this edition I will be writing a series of Positional Analysis reports on the draft-eligible players. I hope you have enjoyed this season’s installment of these articles and that you are looking forward to the next series of articles.
For the first time in what seemed like forever the 49ers returned their entire offensive line to start the 2001 season. The result was continued good protection of Garcia and a stable run game. There’s no question that this group did a good job this past season, however there is definitely room for improvement.
The offensive line ran into problems when dealing with complex blitz packages, and when matched up against very big defensive lines. Historically the 49ers have always had lighter more mobile offensive lines, but with a new faze of agile big defensive tackles, the 49ers will need to add some girth to help protect Garcia.
Elected to the Pro Bowl for the first time, tackle Ray Brown continued to be on top of his game. Brown has let up approximately 1.5 sacks over three seasons. Clearly he is the cream of the crop. Brown is considering retirement though - and if he does choose this avenue, the 49ers will be very hard pressed to replace him.
Center Jeremy Newberry has done an outstanding job at his position. Newberry was added to the Pro Bowl after a first string player dropped out. The 49ers are very happy to have Newberry returning next season, and would consider moving him around out of necessity in the event that either Brown doesn’t return, or the 49ers bring in an additional player.
Scott Gragg occupied one of the 49ers tackle spots this season. Gragg is good sized for his position and played well. The 49ers should be rather happy with both their tackles, and with the possibility of Brown leaving, there is little chance that Gragg’s position on the team would be in jeopardy.
At guard, Dave Fiore is a little small. He is quick and athletic - in typical 49ers offensive line fashion. Fiore had a good season, but will be challenged for his position from youngsters currently on the roster that could add some real weight - and in theory a stronger push along the offensive line. Fiore a veteran of his position will not relinquish his starting position easily.
Derrick Deese has always been a 49ers front office favorite. He’s small for an offensive lineman, but can play any position along the line. He also has a huge contract. Unfortunately Deese is also considered by many to be the weak link along the line. Deese will see plenty of competition for his starting spot and if he loses it, he may be able to work in a backup role on the team.
Ben Lynch is a good back up center that did well in his few opportunities this season. Lynch however was left exposed on the expansion list, and thus his status with the team is rather uncertain. It’s helpful to have a reliable backup center, but it can also be costly. If Lynch is not taken by the Texans, the 49ers will most likely ask him to take a pay cut.
Matt Willig is the 49ers best chance of replacing Brown currently on the roster. Willig played well in rotation throughout the season, making the transition rather seamlessly. Willig is decently sized and would have big shoes to fill if he did get promoted to Brown’s starting spot.
Back up guards Dave Costa and Chard Ward were both rookies this past season who did not see any significant play time. Bother are substantially bigger than Deese, and could be what the 49ers need along the offensive line. Costa in particular is popular amongst the 49ers, so if a chance along the OL happens, it wouldn’t be to surprising to see him emerge.
The 49ers offensive line received lots of credit this season, and rightfully so. But I’d be remised if I didn’t mention the job coach Pat Morris has done with this crew. Morris stepped in for the late Bobb McKittrick after learning the tools of the trade from McKittrick. He has since taken the offensive line and continued right where the legendary McKittrick left off. Imploring many of the same tactics, practice techniques, and strategies, Morris has continued the 49ers tradition of making gems out of their offensive line. McKittrick will not be forgotten, but is great to have a guy like Pat Morris to keep things going.