When the 49ers open training camp this month, the most solid unit on the entire roster will the starting offensive line.
Tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis, guards Mike Iupati and Alex Boone and center Jonathan Goodwin started every game of the 2012 season together and formed one of the best – if not the best – fivesomes in the NFL.
Going forward, however, 2013 could be the last together for the fab five.
Staley and Davis aren’t going anywhere, and neither are Iupati and Boone. But Goodwin – the veteran who helped the New Orleans Saints win a Super Bowl and aided the Niners in winning another one – is entering the final season of his contract in San Francisco.
At age 34, Goodwin renegotiated the final year of his deal in May to give the team more salary cap space. The reworked deal reduced his salary for this season from $3.7 million to $2.5 million, with the team giving him $1 million guaranteed in exchange for the change.
The Niners signed Goodwin in August of 2011 to a three-year deal, and Goodwin stepped into the spot previously occupied by David Baas, who left in free agency.
It was a great pickup for the 49ers. Goodwin has been an anchor in the middle of the line and has provided excellent leadership.
He makes the calls on the offensive line and the pre-snap assignment adjustments.
“He’s a mature human being,” Staley said of his teammate before the Super Bowl in February. “Comparing him with guys like me and Boone, he’s like a father figure. We were kind of joking after the (NFC Championship Game), he’s like the father of the offensive line and we’re all like brothers. He’s been through everything before.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman told the San Francisco Chronicle that it’s Goodwin who makes all the calls and adjustments even in loud, hostile environments when nerves can get frazzled, such as during the NFC title game in Atlanta vs. the Falcons.
“He was the air traffic controller during the snowstorm” of crowd noise, he said.
Going into 2013, however, it’s possible that young backup linemen Daniel Kilgore (in his third season) and Joe Looney (second season) will be getting more opportunities to contribute at the position and be ready to step into the job in 2014. Kilgore and Looney can play both center and guard, and will provide backup at those positions, too. But it’s center where the most promising chance for future playing time exists for the two linemen.
Looney, who was inactive last season because of a Lisfranc foot injury, was able to watch and learn from his teammates.
“It was definitely great to have a year to watch Jonathan Goodwin,” Looney told 49ers.com in May during organized team activities (OTAs). “He’s one of the best in the league at snapping and getting his hands on guys. Being able to learn from him and practice it, I’m definitely improving.”
Kilgore, meanwhile, often played with the first-team unit during OTAs and veteran three-day minicamp in June, which he said was valuable.
“I take full advantage of my opportunity and came out every day with the best attitude I could have,” Kilgore told 49ers.com. “It was a great time. The past three days as an offensive unit, we got so much in and we worked great with each other.”
When training camp begins, Kilgore said he wants to make an impression.
“I want to come in and compete,” he said. “I want to be the starter. With me having that mindset, I know it’s going to push Jonathan Goodwin to work even harder. At the end of the day, it helps us all.”
And it puts the 49ers in a much stronger position going into 2014.