49ers key matchup No. 3: Boone vs. Starks

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49ers key matchup No. 3: Boone vs. Starks

This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Dolphins matchups to watch Sunday, 1 p.m. (CBS), at Candlestick Park.

49ers RG Alex Boone vs. Dolphins DT Randy Starks

Tale of the tape
Boone (75): 6-foot-8, 300 pounds, third season, Ohio State
Starks (94): 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, ninth season, Miami (Fla.)

Alex Boone was asked the question that he wouldn't have even considered when last offseason began.

Is it possible your best position is guard and not tackle?

"Whoa," Boone responded.

Why did the question catch him, ahem, off guard?

"Because I never thought I'd be a good guard, at all," Boone said. "To be honest with you, I'm too tall. I'm not built like a guard. But once you adapt to the game and understand the position it becomes a little easier. There are things you have to continue to work on. It's just different. There's not a lot of space to work with, and you got to make it work."

Boone has made it work through 12 games in his first season after receiving word at the 49ers' first gathering of the offseason that he would be converted to a new position. The 49ers already had left tackle Joe Staley and right tackle Anthony Davis entrenched as starters.

The weak link of the 49ers' offensive line for years had been right guard, where Chilo Rachal and Adam Snyder lined up the past several seasons.

Boone has not merely just held his own. He has excelled.

Pro Football Focus, which grades every player at every position, ranks Boone as the No. 3 guard in the NFL behind left guard Evan Mathis (Philadelphia) and right guard Marshal Yanda (Baltimore).

Boone is coming off a strong game against the St. Louis Rams, and he'll have to produce another good effort Sunday when he is matched mostly against the Miami Dolphins' veteran Randy Starks, one of the top defensive tackles in the league.

Starks, who was selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team after the 2010 season, is a versatile player who will pose a challenge for Boone in pass protection. Starks ranks second on the Dolphins behind Cameron Wake with 4.5 sacks on the season. Starks is also stout against the run.

The 49ers must get their run game going, and the Dolphins rank as the league's eighth-toughest defense when it comes to stopping the run. The Dolphins yield just 94.5 yards rushing per game with a 3.7 average. Led by Frank Gore, the 49ers average 5.3 yards per rush attempt.

"Alex, I thought, had one of his best games, if not his best game last week," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "Technically, from an assignment standpoint, everything he did last game was really well. He's come along really well, he's learning every week.

"You see a lot of different styles of defender, a lot of different styles of defense and Alex is the kind of guy we want, a guy that's pushing to get better every week. So he's doing a great job. When he gets out in space, he can get rolling, a bit like an 18-wheeler going down a hill. He did a great job last week on a couple of our perimeter plays."

Boone has found a home at guard for the 49ers. And he might be there for a while. And that's something, when he thinks about it, comes as a surprise.

If and when he ever moves back to tackle, he believes he'll be better for the experience.

"It can make you tougher, being a guard," Boone said. "I always used to think that guards were guys who just sat there and didn't do much and were kind of lazy. But after playing the guard position, it's a tough spot. Guys really try to go through you. They don't try to go around you too much. They just take you down the middle. They're big, thick guys, so you're working every play. It's kind of fun. It's like a fistfight in a phone booth."

49ers have already spent more in 2017 free agency than a year ago

49ers have already spent more in 2017 free agency than a year ago

Under the 49ers’ new regime, the club has already invested more in the free-agent market than a year ago under then-general manager Trent Baalke.

Just a reminder: The free-agent signing period does not officially open until March 9.

The 49ers on Friday reached a contract agreement with veteran defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, who is penciled into be a starter in the team’s new 4-3 base scheme under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

"As soon as Earl hit the open market, he became a priority for us to sign,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said in a statement released Saturday morning. “A man of high character, he represents everything we want to be as a football team. Earl is a tone-setter who plays the game with a tremendous passion and the effort necessary to win in this league. We believe those qualities are contagious and will help to make our team stronger. We look forward to the impact Earl will have on the field, in the locker room and in our community.”

It was the first significant move under Lynch, who also signed a player with NFL experience earlier in the week.

The 49ers also added cornerback K’Waun Williams to a one-year contract. Williams served as the Cleveland Browns’ nickel back for two seasons. The Browns released him before the start of last season and he was unable to play due to an ankle injury.

Mitchell was available to be signed before the start of the new league year because the Miami Dolphins released him last week in a move to save the team $4 million in cap space.

Mitchell took four free-agent visits and after wrapping up his tour with the Atlanta Falcons on Friday, he and the 49ers quickly agreed on a four-year, $16 million contract that includes $5.5 million of money in the first year, according to a source.

Last year, Baalke did little to improve the roster for coach Chip Kelly. The 49ers, who finished 5-11 in Jim Tomsula's one season, dropped to 2-14. Just hours after the season concluded, the 49ers announced the firings of Baalke and Kelly.

The only veteran free-agent addition who stepped on the field for the 49ers last season was offensive lineman Zane Beadles. The 49ers signed Beadles in late-March to a three-year, $9.75 million contract with a $1.75 million signing bonus. Beadles had a good season for the 49ers, starting 12 games at left guard, two games at left tackle and the final two games at center.

The 49ers have already shown more willingness to be aggressive under Lynch’s leadership.

Mitchell, 29, is a seven-year veteran who began his NFL career from 2010 to ’13 with the Houston Texans. He was a rookie in Saleh’s final season as assistant linebackers coach in Houston.

Mitchell joins DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Quinton Dial on the 49ers defensive line. The 49ers view Mitchell as a high-energy player who bring good character to the locker room. The signing of Mitchell could be an indication the 49ers are moving on from Glenn Dorsey, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.

With 5.5 sacks in seven seasons, the 49ers do not figure to use Mitchell in passing situations. The club must try to bolster its pass rush in free agency or the draft. Last season, Buckner and Ahmad Brooks shared the team-lead with six sacks apiece. In 2015, Brooks and Aaron Lynch both led the way with 6.5 sacks.

 

Source: 49ers agree to four-year deal with former Dolphins DT

Source: 49ers agree to four-year deal with former Dolphins DT

The San Francisco 49ers agreed to a four-year, $16 million deal with defensive tackle Earl Mitchell on Friday, CSNBayArea.com has learned

Mitchell, 29, will earn $5.5 million in his first year with the 49ers. 

The seven-year veteran played in nine games last season for the Dolphins. He recorded 17 total tackles. 

Since entering the league in 2010 as a third-round draft pick with the Texans, Mitchell has appeared in 100 games between Houston and Miami, totaling 206 tackles. He has also recorded 5.5 sacks.