Joe Staley has been the rock of the 49ers’ offensive line since he was drafted in the first round in 2007.
Yet now, with the Niners at 3-0 and putting themselves in position to possibly contend in the NFC West, that rock is gone. Staley, injured in Week 2 against the Bengals, has been replaced at left tackle by rookie Justin Skule, who must protect the blind side of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo until Staley can return from a broken leg, perhaps in December.
Skule, a sixth-round pick out of Vanderbilit, started last week in a victory over the Steelers, but now will have to go against one of the NFL’s top defensive ends, Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns, in a nationally televised Monday night game.
In his first game, he didn’t give up a sack and performed so well with his blocking assignments that the 49ers rarely had to give him extra help or bring a tight end over to his side for support. He was penalized three times but handled his assignments well.
Now comes Garrett, the first overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft who had 13½ sacks in 2018 and has six in only four games this season, along with eight quarterback hits, five tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
"Every player is a good player in this league and so you can’t psyche yourself out," Skule told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle this week. "Myles Garrett is a phenomenal player, but you play phenomenal players every week."
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan says he and the coaching staff are prepared, too, to give him any help that he needs, with a tight end or extra blocker.
"You’ve got to help out anybody in this situation, but especially a rookie in his second game," said Shanahan. "It’ll be more of a challenge. Everyone will be watching, but (Skule is) a guy who, as I’ve said, doesn’t change at all. He won’t be out there doing it on his own."
Whether he succeeds or fails Monday night vs. Garrett, Skule will continue to be tested. For now, he’s the man in Staley’s spot for at least two months.
Monday night’s kickoff between the 3-0 49ers and 2-2 Browns is set for 5:15 at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers are 4-point favorites.