This past offseason, veteran offensive lineman Ben Garland served as the 49ers’ No. 1 center in most workouts and practices.
Now, Garland is back in that role – though the 49ers wish he weren’t.
Garland, who played at Air Force, was with the Denver Broncos for two seasons and the Atlanta Falcons for three before joining the 49ers this season to back up starting center Weston Richburg. Garland can also play guard, so the 31-year-old – with 54 NFL games on his resume before this season – was a valuable and versatile insurance policy for Kyle Shanahan’s team.
But now, as the 49ers head into the final three games of this regular-season and the playoffs (for which they’ve already clinched a spot), they’ll have to do it without Richburg, who was having a terrific season after an injury-marred 2018.
Richburg suffered a torn patellar tendon (knee injury) in Sunday’s victory over the Saints and is sidelined until 2020.
For an offense that has prospered in large part because of its offensive line in 2019, losing Richburg is a blow. But Garland will step into a starting role and try to replicate the success of offensive tackles Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill, who played very well earlier this season in relief of Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey.
Shanahan noted Garland came in for Richburg early in the second half against the Saints and held his own as San Francisco rallied for a victory .
“He did a hell of a job when he came in,” Shanahan told reporters Monday. “Replacing Richburg is a huge job. He’s played very well for us this year and Ben came in and we were able to not miss a beat. He stepped up, knew the game plan well, blocked those guys, even when they were the head-up nose.
“When he was uncovered he got through to the second level and made a number of plays in the game that helped us.”
But Richburg’s teammates know his loss is huge. Richburg, as center, calls out blocking assignments and has a great rapport with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
“Losing Weston is big,” said
Staley. “He’s the center position on our offensive line. He’s one of the
captains for our group and you don’t want to see him go down at all.”
Garland served two years as an active-duty Air Force officer following his graduation from the Air Force Academy and remains a member of the Colorado Air National Guard. Garland will snap the ball to Garoppolo this Sunday, when the 4-9 Atlanta Falcons take on the 11-2 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. Game time is 1:25 p.m.