Erik Pears certainly looks the part of a dominant NFL offensive lineman.
At 6-foot-8 and 316 pounds, Pears is a rugged 33-year-old blocker who’s played for the Broncos, Raiders and Bills since entering the league in 2006.
After five seasons in Buffalo – the past four as a starter at right tackle (2011-2013) and right guard (2014) – Pears was signed by the 49ers this offseason for depth and flexibility. But with the unexpected retirement of right tackle Anthony Davis, Pears suddenly is penciled in as the starter at Davis’ old spot on an offensive line in transformation.
Joe Staley is still at left tackle, but former right guard Alex Boone now has been switched to left guard. Center will be manned either by Daniel Kilgore (currently out with an injury) or Joe Looney, with right guard up for grabs, with the leading contenders being Marcus Martin and Brandon Thomas. That would leave Pears at right tackle to battle rookie seventh-rounder Trent Brown – who’s struggled so far in the first days of training camp.
Niners head coach Jim Tomsula says the team likes Pears much better at tackle than guard, where he played last season. He says, too, that he’s been impressed with the veteran’s play.
“That’s what we’ve evaluated him most at,” Tomsula said before training camp. “I liked the way he was moving. The biggest thing with Pears is, since he’s gotten here, with his weight room, he’s bigger and stronger than he’s ever been. He’s moving really well.”
But Pears hardly seems like another Davis. Davis, in his time with the 49ers, was an athletic, devastating run blocker.
Pears, meanwhile, had the third-worst grade among all NFL guards in 2014, as given by the analytics website Pro Football Focus. As a tackle, Pro Football Focus graded him better, but he still ranked just 55th out of 76 NFL tackles in 2013.
In fact, the entire Bills offensive line was termed a “mess” in 2014 by Sal Maiorana of the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle, and he noted that Pears was a big contributor to the problems. “The struggles up front dragged down the entire offense,” he wrote last year.
“He was terrible, and he has probably played his last down with the Bills,” wrote Maiorana. “It will be very difficult for the Bills not to be better at this position in 2015.”
Of course, it’s early. In a new environment, with better teammates, new coaches and a chance to kick start his career, Pears could take a big step forward in 2015 in replacing Davis.
But recent history has put a big question mark over his prospects.