Power Running: The 2009 San Francisco 49ers' Offensive Line

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Power Running: The 2009 San Francisco 49ers' Offensive Line
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The life of an offensive lineman isn't glamorous or sexy.

The behemoths are often overlooked and underappreciated, but these front-line trench warriors are the drumline of the band.

When former San Francisco 49ers' fullback Tom Rathman played, he ran and blocked behind a fleet footed, athletic offensive line that created huge lanes for Roger Craig.

Back in those days, the 49ers' offensive lineman was known for his quick feet. Athletic ability was favored over size while coordination and technique was preferred over brute strength. Creating movement and confusion on the defensive line was more important than opening a specific hole in the defense.

Zone-blocking schemes were utilized and the cut block, generally used away from the ball carrier on fast flowing defenders, became a staple in this style of running. However, cut blocks are illegal in the open field and are considered "dirty" due to the high risk of serious injury if executed improperly.

Many of the schemes run by these retro 49ers asked the offensive linemen to imagine a "railroad track" parallel to the running backs' path and to block everything in the way.

Fast forward to 2009.

Rathman is back in San Francisco as running backs coach and comes armed with an explicit knowledge of zone-blocking techniques that the Denver Broncos have popularized around the league in recent years.   

However, the 49ers look like they will be employing a man-blocking scheme for a punishing downhill running attack under offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye and tough minded head coach Mike Singletary.

The heartbeat of the 2009 San Francisco 49ers will be the power run and they aspire to physically impose their will and punish opposing defenses.

In a power run system, blockers are paired with defenders to create running lanes. If the defensive front changes or if the defense stunts or blitzes, the blocking rules may change causing confusion at the line of scrimmage.

If the offensive line succeeds and collapses the opposing defensive line, the assaulting linemen execute drive blocks at the point of attack on the lighter linebackers, eliminating them from the play.

The current group of offensive linemen look like a capable unit with often injured Jonas Jennings as the only notable departure. The rest of the San Francisco offensive line is familiar with each other while newcomer Marvel Smith is an Oakland native, making his transition to the Bay Area a lot easier.

Smith is an upgrade over Jennings and brings some of that Pittsburgh Steelers' toughness to the line while big bruiser David Baas is a natural fit for a power run style of attack. If former Buckeye Alex Boone keeps his nose clean, he could develop into a starter because he has the size and power to play lineman in the NFL.

Boone had some problems with alcohol in the past, but was an impressive two-time All-Ohio selection, a three year starter at Saint Edward High School and a two time All-Big 10 selection at the Ohio State University.

Don't be surprised if zone-blocking wrinkles from Rathman's brain are added to the offensive line's repertoire because there are some pieces available to run a zone play or two, throwing defenses off balance.

Former Oakland Raiders' tackle Barry Sims has played in the system, guard Chilo Rachal is the fastest offensive lineman on the roster and center Eric Heitmann is versatile enough to play this style of offense. Standout tackle Joe Staley also has the necessary skills to play in a zone block scheme.

Rounding out the rest of the line, Adam Snyder and Tony Wragge have consistently proven to be valuable backups while the remaining players on the unit are versatile enough to play multiple positions.

The overall success of any football team boils down to their ability to control the line of scrimmage and for the 2009 San Francisco 49ers to compete this year, this offensive line must dominate in the trenches.



No. 74 Joe Staley

Strengths: Excellent technique, speed and smarts for an offensive lineman. Former tight end has the athleticism to play in a zone-blocking scheme. Has Pro Bowl potential and is a solid all around football player.

Weaknesses: Could get a little bit stronger.

Best Fit: Zone Blocking or Power Run

No. 71 Marvel Smith    

Strengths: Oakland native is a big bodied blocker with good athleticism and technique. Earned Pro Bowl honors and two Super Bowl Championships as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Weaknesses: Age.

Best Fit: Power Run

No. 65 Barry Sims  

Strengths: Versatile and proven offensive lineman that knows how to block in a zone scheme.

Weaknesses: Light for an offensive tackle by modern day standards. Inconsistent technique.

Best Fit: Zone Blocking

No. 75 Alex Boone   

Strengths: Has the strength and size to play in the NFL.

Weaknesses: Alcohol

Best Fit: Power Run

No. 77 Jacob Bender     

Strengths: Has good athleticism for a tackle. Is quick off the snap, explosive at the point of attack and moves pretty well around the football field.

Weaknesses: Needs to get stronger and improve overall technique.

Best Fit: Power Run

No. 61 Joe Toledo

Strengths: Physically imposing.

Weaknesses: Injuries have hampered his career.

Best Fit: Power Run


No. 64 David Baas     

Strengths: Has the strength and power necessary to thrive in an offense that features the power run. Plays with good balance and decent technique. The sky's the limit for this brute.

Weaknesses: Durability has been a concern in the past. Has been slow to develop and his overall game could be stepped up.

Best Fit: Power Run

No. 62 Chilo Rachal

Strengths: Was recently clocked at 4.92 seconds in the 40-yard dash. The versatile lineman has not yet allowed a quarterback sack. Has the potential to become a good player in the NFL.

Weaknesses: Isn't as strong as he looks.

Best Fit: Power Run or Zone Blocking

No. 68 Adam Snyder    

Strengths: Versatile player that can play guard and tackle positions. Has the necessary size and strength to play in the NFL.

Weaknesses: Needs to get stronger and improve his overall technique.

Best Fit: Zone Blocking

No. 69 Tony Wragge

Strengths: Versatile and strong offensive lineman who is also a good special teams player. One of the strongest players in 49er history. Wragge is one of five players that can do dumbbell presses with 200 pound dumbbells (Larry Allen, Moran Norris, Isaac Sopoaga and Bryant Young are the others).

Weaknesses: Needs to improve on his footwork.

Best Fit: Power Run


No. 65 Eric Heitmann

Strengths: Experienced veteran is a smart and versatile player. Has decent size and can also play guard.

Weaknesses: Functional strength could be improved.

Best Fit: Zone Blocking or Power Run

No. 59 Cody Wallace

Strengths: Versatile and decently athletic for a lineman. The second Texas A&M Aggie to be named a finalist for the Rimington Trophy.

Weaknesses: Needs to get bigger, stronger and improve his overall technique.

Best Fit: Zone Blocking

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