SANTA CLARA -- Alex Boone’s contract standstill has provided a member of the 49ers’ ill-fated 2012 draft class an opportunity to make an impact.
Guard Joe Looney is getting practice time with the first team, and his performance could likely shape how the 49ers deal with Boone during his holdout.
“I’m approaching training camp as a time to compete and get better, and I want to show the coaches I’m getting better every day,” Looney said. “Alex Boone is a hell of a player and a hell of a guy, and him being gone is his business. But watching him on film every day, I want to come in and do a hell of a job like he does.”
More than 40 guards in the NFL make more money than Boone, and he does not plan to report to training camp without a new contract, according to sources. Meanwhile, the 49ers do not want to set a precedent by capitulating to the demands of players already under contract.
The initials signs have been encouraging for the player entrusted to fill in. After the first padded practice on Saturday, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh singled out Looney’s performance.
“He (Looney) also had some ‘wow’ moments during the practice,” Harbaugh said. “One in particular, I was like, ‘Wow.’ He pulled, he was on a track, he was square, he delivered a blow. Good things.”
Looney appears to be taking advantage of his opportunity while he's lining up with the starters.
“It’s good to be in there and working with the No. 1 guys,” Looney said. “Being around them helps me get better. I’m getting tips on what I can do better, talking to Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati and Joe Staley.”
The 49ers traded up eight spots in the fourth round in 2012 to select Looney from Wake Forest. Looney did not get into a regular-season game as a rookie upon returning from a foot fracture. Last year, Looney was inactive for 12 games. But he was needed to play a significant role in a December victory over the St. Louis Rams, and he responded.
Staley sustained a knee injury in the first quarter, forcing Boone from right guard to left tackle. Looney got the call to step in at right guard and match up mostly against Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford.
Looney played 60 snaps and graded out very well in a 23-13 win.
“I approached every game as if I was going to play,” Looney said. “Coach (Mike) Solari prepares us like that. He makes sure you know every call and what to do if someone does, unfortunately, get hurt. When I go in, I want to contribute.”
And that continues to be Looney’s attitude as he gets his best opportunity this summer to prove he can be a boon on an offensive line regarded as one of the best units in the NFL.
“I just want to compete and show coaches that I’m going to work hard and try to win a job,” he said.