One week to the draft. Two veteran offensive lineman brought back. And about a million noteworthy offensive line prospects about to enter the league.
The San Francisco 49ers announced Tuesday that Guard David Baas signed the one-year contract he had previously been tendered after becoming a restricted free agent following the 2009 season.
The 6'4" 330 lb Baas has played in 76 career games with 38 starts, 25 of which came at left guard since being the 49ers' second-round selection (33rd overall) in the 2005 Draft. Baas, last seasons recipient of the 49ers Bobb McKittrick Award, will be eagerly welcomed back to the trenches.
Roughly three weeks ago, San Francisco welcomed back Barry Simms, the versatile veteran, who stepped in and played more than adequately when starting left tackle Joe Staley was sidelined for seven weeks with a knee injury.
So what's the meaning of these players returning to the trenches?
I'll start with culture.
The Faithful has witnessed the symptoms of a winning culture in the attitude of players like David Carr, who more or less vowed to push Alex Smith while at the same time mentoring him. Players like Vernon Davis, who now embraces a team mentality, understanding the divided-we-fall facts of the NFL.
Even Simms himself, who declared upon his return that "If they do draft a lineman, I'd like to try to mentor him, like some of the older guys did for me when I got into the league..." and "When you go away, it's a real eye-opening experience" opting to stay because "You have to re-establish relationships with everybody. I'd really miss the guys in San Francisco, because we have such a great group of guys."
It also means continuity.
Many will argue that having the same offensive linemen as last year isn't the best thing for Alex Smith, who was constantly forced to scramble and improvise behind a porous group of body guards. But the Faithful should remember that this continuity (which has been Smith's Achilles heel) also means a smarter, stronger, and tougher line than last year. It means another Summer of running "Hamstring Hill" and allowing Coach Singletary to make players better than they ever thought they could be.
But the most timely relevance involves the 2010 NFL draft.
The Faithful has focused, focused, focused on which offensive lineman the 49ers would take in the first round of the draft. Now, as mock drafts (upon mock drafts) reveal the harsh truth that the big four offensive tackles—Russell Okung, Trent Williams, Bryan Bulaga, and Anthony Davis—should be gone by the time the 49ers are on the clock with the 13th overall pick.
The first silver lining is that this allows San Francisco to focus on two other dire needs: the pass rush and the defensive secondary.
The second silver lining here is the essential depth of the draft. Make no mistake: there will be talented linemen available in later rounds. Players like Bruce Campbell, Jon Asamoah, Mitch Petrus, John Jerry, Jared Veldheer, Shelly Smith, and Eric Olson—to name only a fraction of them—litter the second to sixth round draft boards.
Even one of my favorite linemen this year, Brandon Carter, is now projected as a seventh rounder or even undrafted rookie.
And speaking of undrafted players, Alex Boone has slimmed down his leviathan-esk physique in hope of digging himself a roster spot.
So yes, the line is staying the same, but yes, the line is changing. Iron is sharpening iron. And I expect the sharpening will continue all the way through next season.