As the first full-squad practice of training camp gets underway, the San Francisco 49ers offensive line will receive much attention from the nationwide media machine.
(Okay, perhaps from the local journalists for the time being.)
First on the media spotlight is the right-guard position.
The all-versatile fan favorite Adam Snyder created a big question mark with his free-agency departure to the Arizona Cardinals. As it stands, the former backup and swing tackle Alex Boone is the front-runner for the position.
Converting a prototypical tackle (6'8'', 300 pounds) to a position better suited for a player with a much lower center of gravity doesn’t always inspire peace of mind among the skeptics.
Yet what may escape the collective gaze of 49ers observers is San Francisco's potential underrated weakness at the center position.
Jonathan Goodwin did an admirable job after signing with the team with less than two weeks before the start of training camp in 2011. The former New Orleans Saint helped propel a top-10 rushing attack for the 49ers.
Goodwin’s age and injury history also come into play. He’s 33 and has missed time during both the regular and postseason. Suffice it to say, father time is not exactly on his side.
Who is the biggest concern on the 49ers' O-line?
The pertinent questions, then, are these: Who waits behind Goodwin on the depth chart? Is he a serviceable backup or a young gun without any real-time playing experience?
First in line is Daniel Kilgore.
The fifth-round draft choice in 2011 was originally thought of as the heir apparent to Snyder at right guard. With Boone slated in as the starter (newly signed Leonard Davis notwithstanding), Kilgore must now fulfill the responsibilities of backup offensive lineman—primarily at center, but at both guard positions, as well.
That essentially qualifies him as a jack of all trades, a role that Snyder occupied just last season. The problem with this is that Kilgore has not registered any real playing time since entering the league.
While we cannot possibly make any final judgments on his viability in the NFL, we also cannot fully trust him to stabilize the O-line if Goodwin were to succumb to age or injury.
The same goes for the third man in the order.
Jason Slowey, a 2012 sixth-round draftee out of Western Oregon, dominated the lower collegiate ranks but cannot be relied upon to play a meaningful role during his rookie season. It would be fair neither to him nor to the team.
Bringing it around full circle, it seems that center is just as tenuous a starting slot as right guard.
Should all of this be cause for full-fledged trepidation among 'Niners faithful?
But it is an unnoticed area of the field that could form a substantial obstacle in front of a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.
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