Niners left guard Mike Iupati wasn’t able to participate in the team’s organized team activities (OTAs) that are concluding this week.
He had what has been reported to be minor surgery on a shoulder this offseason that apparently was damaged in the 49ers’ 27-13 victory over the Dolphins on Dec. 9.
But the surgery isn’t expected to be anything but a pebble in the road for the Niners’ dominating, physical blocker who last season received both first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
By the time training camp begins in July, the 6-foot-5, 331-pound former Idaho standout – a first-round pick in 2010 – will be back to flatten defenders and create gaping holes the way he did last season as part of one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.
There’s been speculation, in fact, that the team and Iupati are in the process of negotiating a contract extension that would keep him in a 49ers uniform for several seasons. Right tackle Anthony Davis, taken in the same 2010 draft, recently signed a five-year, $37.3 million extension, and Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle noted that he believes Iupati is next up.
“Iupati’s rare ability is the most compelling reason he’ll be the next to sign a long-term extension,” Branch wrote. “The 49ers, after all, love to play power ball on offense and a human freight train such as Iupati is a prized weapon who would be exceedingly difficult to replace.”
Branch points out that Iupati’s “rare blend of size, strength and agility” is one of the reasons the team is able to run a system that employs an old-school blocking scheme with a variety of trap plays.
Iupati and stalwart left tackle Joe Staley both have had offseason surgeries this season but are expected back at full speed for training camp. The team goes into 2013 with its offensive line intact, with center Jonathan Goodwin, right guard Alex Boone and Davis also returning.
But it’s Iupati’s surge into the top echelon of NFL guards that has helped set the tempo of the line’s dominating play. Former NFL coach Jon Gruden, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, has said that he loves Iupati’s nastiness on the field.
“If I was coaching, I’d like to have to or three Iupatis on my team,” he said.
For the 49ers, one will do. And they may just secure his nastiness for the next several years with a contract extension in the very near future.
As 49ers GM Trent Baalke has said, he’s loved Iupati’s play since the moment he first scouted him at the University of Idaho.
“In scouting, you live for those moments when you find someone that comes out at his position that isn’t likely to come out for another five to 10 years,” Baalke told Branch last October. “… I don’t know that (Iupati) is a once-in-a-generation player, but he’s certainly not an every-year guy. You just don’t find men that big that move that well (and) that are that powerful on a consistent basis year in and year out.”