This will be an important offseason for 49ers offensive lineman Trent Brown.
Brown, a seventh-round draft pick of the Niners in 2015, started the final two games of the season and flashed some big-time potential.
Now, Brown will be in the mix with a new coaching staff and offensive scheme to earn a chance to start for what is sure to be a revamped offensive line in 2016. San Francisco likely will invest in either free agency or the draft to upgrade its blockers after a season in which 49ers quarterbacks were under constant pressure and the running game was inconsistent. But even with new talent on the roster, Brown will have a chance to show what he can do.
At 6-foot-8 and 355 pounds when drafted out of Florida – he dropped down to 345 while also adding more muscle since he was selected – Brown, just 22, is a physical force and much more effective since working to upgrade his physique. Brown says some of the coaches from the Atlanta Falcons, who had scouted him on film when he played at Florida, didn’t even recognize him when they saw him in warm-ups before their game on Nov. 8.
“I guess my body has changed that much,” Brown told USA Today. “I was just smiling.”
Then, when injuries and under-performance opened a spot at right tackle late in the season, Brown got his shot and played well.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert said it was, “Big Trent stepping up.”
Brown appeared in six games and started the final two, playing at right guard and right tackle. In his first extended playing time, against those Falcons at right tackle, the analytics website Pro Football Focus gave him a positive grade. Late in the season, he said he was finally in a rhythm and confident in what he was doing.
“I felt like things were moving a lot slower,” he said.
It’s possible, too, that Brown now has the condition and athleticism to take a big step forward under head coach Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offensive scheme in which the 49ers will run off plays very quickly. Offensive linemen will need to be in shape to stay on the field, pull and move.
As a rookie, Brown told reporter Matt Maiocco that he’s suited for that style.
“Believe it or not, when I was younger I was a skill player,” said Brown. “I started out playing running back. Played a little quarterback, cornerback, receiver, linebacker. In basketball I played guard, too. So it really wasn’t a big thing. I can move in space. It’s always been one of my attributes.”