The line on the 49ers’ offensive line entering training camp was that it was solid.
The team had a lot of question marks under new coach Jim Harbaugh, but with four starters returning from 2010, the O-Line appeared to be an area of strength, not concern.
The line had two young first-round picks in left guard Mike Iupati and right tackle Anthony Davis and a solid left tackle in Joe Staley. San Francisco also signed former Saints Pro Bowler Jonathan Goodwin to compete with Adam Snyder to replace its only departed starter, center David Baas.
Then came Friday night’s exhibition opener, when New Orleans’ blitz overwhelmed the Niners’ blocking schemes and quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick were sacked six times.
Suddenly, a giant question mark appeared over the line.
“There’s no excuse for it,” Snyder told the San Francisco Chronicle after Sunday’s practice. “We just have to get better. A lot of it comes down to us executing our job.”
Sunday’s Fan Fest practice at Candlestick Park included much attention to blitz pickups and the passing game.
Harbaugh also made pass protection a focus in Sunday morning’s pre-practice meetings.
“We worked a lot on the passing game,” Harbaugh said. “A lot of third-down blitz pickup and route mechanics. It was a lot of good teaching on the tape.”
The offense spent a lot of time working on quick slant patterns, too, as a counter to the blitz, reported Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Said Staley of Friday night’s pass-protection failures: “There were too many mental errors,” and a lack of good communication between the line, tight ends and running backs on blitz protection.
“We’ll get better,” Staley told the Chronicle. “I believe in everybody out here. We’re all working hard and we’re going to make big strides this week and go in the Raider game and perform better.”
Smith said it wasn’t just the line that was responsible for the problems Friday night – though the guys up front took most of the heat.
“It seemed like every play there was a breakdown somewhere,” he told reporters. “Whether it was the quarterback, the receiver, up front, we all hard our hands in it, and we all took our turn.”