Before the 49ers faced the Giants Sunday night, offensive coordinator Geep Chryst told reporters that his unit had made some “major changes” to address some remarkable inefficiencies.
The Niners offensive line, in particular had been under fire the previous three weeks for allowing constant pressure on quarterback Colin Kaepernick while also failing to open holes for the running game.
The trio of center Marcus Martin, right guard Jordan Devey and right tackle Erik Pears, in particular, had struggled.
So, on Sunday, Andrew Tiller – a member of the team’s practice squad until this past week – was activated. Then, he shared time with Devey at right guard. His addition seemingly made an enormous impact. Devey started, but played 34 snaps – the same number Tiller played.
The result was immediate, with the 49ers' line performing much better in a disappointing 30-27 loss.
The line gave up just two sacks of Kaepernick (after he was sacked six times by Green Bay the previous week) while San Francisco rushed for 124 yards against one of the NFL’s best rush defenses.
Can just one player – sharing the position – make that big a difference? Yes, according to the football analytics website Pro Football Focus, which graded Tiller as a plus performer Sunday.
“The 49ers introduced a rotation at right guard for the first time this season and on last night’s evidence it won’t be long before Andrew Tiller (+1.1) pushes Jordan Devey (-1.1) aside to take the role on a full-time basis,” wrote Ben Stockwell of PFF.
Stockwell noted that Tiller was better in both pass protection and run blocking than Devey and added that, “There was nothing to suggest he wouldn’t be an upgrade over Devey, who sits near the bottom of our guard grades after five weeks.”
Tiller is 6-foot-4 and 324 pounds, a former standout at Syracuse who has spent time previously with the Saints, Chargers and Packers.
Niners head coach Jim Tomsula on Monday wouldn’t say which player will start at right guard this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. But he praised Tiller’s work against the Giants and while on the practice squad, dating to last season.
“I like both of them,” Tomsula said. “Tiller’s a big, strong, heavy-handed guy. I’ve just admired the way he’s worked since he got here last year. He was obviously on the practice squad. We went against him a lot, defensive-line wise, and he’s just a guy that I noticed.”
It’s possible that more line changes will be made as the season progresses. Daniel Kilgore can soon return from injury. If he’s healthy, he could replace Martin at center. If Pears also continues to struggle, rookie Trent Brown could be an option.