The first season for the 49ers under head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch came with a learning curve. The team’s new leadership took a beating at first as the Niners started 0-9, but by the end of 2017, a new quarterback, some promising rookies and a positive attitude out of the locker room left the franchise hopeful for a better 2018.
One lesson Lynch and Shanahan learned was that the offensive line needed improvement. Fast.
Against physical and talented teams in the NFC West, San Francisco’s offense got pushed around.
“We weren’t very good in our division, and when you look at our division, there’s guys like (Rams All-Pro defensive tackle) Aaron Donald come to mind," said Lynch. "We got beat up in the interior at times last year, and so we had to fortify that.”
To that end, the 49ers used their No. 1 draft pick on Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey; acquired former No. 1 pick Jonathan Cooper, a guard; signed former Giants center Weston Richburg; and gave guard Laken Tomlinson a three-year contract extension for performing as well as he did after coming over from the Lions.
Now as the 49ers head into training camp July 25, the 49ers are expected to have a revamped starting five consisting of Joe Staley at left tackle, Tomlinson at left guard, Richburg at center, former No. 1 pick Joshua Garnett at right guard (who’s coming back after losing all of 2017 to injury) and McGlinchey at right tackle.
The Niners hope that the improvement on the line will fuel better overall performance by the offense and produce a team that can compete for an NFC West title and a playoff spot.
And, some outsiders see that as a good bet.
This week, Michael Renner of the analytic website Pro Football Focus, ranked the 49ers as having the 16th-best offensive line entering this training camp – with the potential to climb much higher.
Wrote Renner: “The 49ers have some of the best potential to outplay their current ranking. The reason being unfulfilled potential. Laken Tomlinson and Joshua Garnett are both former first-round picks who have yet to fulfill their potential. Tomlinson took huge strides forward last season with a career-high 70.7 overall grade while Garnett never got to build on a disappointing rookie campaign. … Both were highly touted by us here at PFF coming out of college as well. Then you add Weston Richburg – who earned an 86.5 grade back in 2015 – and Mike McGlinchey, PFF’s top-rated tackle in the 2018 draft.”
If Garnett falters, Cooper is there to step in. The team also has veteran Garry Gilliam to push McGlinchey as well.
If this fivesome comes together as the 49ers hope, the 49ers offense could be much more effective against NFC rivals in 2018.