In 2014 and 2015, the 49ers missed center Daniel Kilgore. The veteran, in his sixth season, is a leader and steady presence on the offensive line.
Because of injuries, he played just seven games in 2014 and five in 2015. His return to health in 2016 has been a big boost, say teammates and coaches.
But Kilgore once again has been lost, having suffered an injury to his right knee in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets. The 49ers have placed Kilgore on injured reserve, and he will miss the season’s final three games, beginning with Sunday’s matchup in Atlanta against the Falcons.
Kilgore’s injury means Marcus Martin is the next man up to start at center. During the game against the Jets, Martin moved over from left guard to finish the game at center. Martin had plenty of problems last season at center when starting in Kilgore’s absence, and he had further problems against the Jets, according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Branch noted that Martin was “pushed back” on a fourth-and-2 play in overtime that resulted in running back Carlos Hyde being stopped. The Jets then marched to the game-clinching score.
When Martin moved over to center, Andrew Tiller played at left guard.
Head coach Chip Kelly said Kilgore’s loss is big.
“There were a little bit of communication issues at times just because Danny has such a command in terms of what we do,” Kelly told Branch, of what happened in the Jets game. “But I thought those guys, for the amount of time that they had to practice there, did a good job.”
One move the 49ers made this week to fill Kilgore’s roster spot was to promote center Alex Balducci from the practice squad to back up Martin.
Balducci, an undrafted rookie from Oregon, was converted to center after playing nose tackle for the Ducks.
Balducci told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee this week that his transition from defense to offense has been going well, but it’s been an adjustment.
“Everything on defense is attack, attack, attack,” he told Barrows. “You get one (play) call and go. On offense, you have to wait things out and see how things develop.”
The 1-12 49ers are set to face the 8-5 Falcons Sunday at 1:05 p.m. in the Bay Area.