49ers' O-line turning into strength of the offense


49ers' O-line turning into strength of the offense

SANTA CLARA -- At the beginning of last season, the 49ers could not run the ball, quarterback Alex Smith was under constant pressure, and the team had already benched one offensive lineman.The 49ers' offensive line was generally considered one of the team's biggest question marks.Nobody is questioning the 49ers' offensive line now. In fact, the line might be the team's strongest position on that side of the ball.
"(They're) big, strong and physical," Bills coach Chan Gailey said this week in a conference call with Bay Area reporters. The Bills will come to Candlestick Park on Sunday to face the 49ers.
"They are playing extremely well," Gailey continued. "They're a strong bunch. They're probably overall, the best group we've played this year. I mean, they are playing well together now."How well?Each of the 49ers' five starting offensive linemen is improved over a year ago and ranks in the top four at their respective positions in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus' rating system that takes into account pass protection, screen blocking, run blocking and penalties.Right guard Alex Boone and right tackle Anthony Davis are second at their respective positions. Boone ranks ahead of Mike Iupati as a guard and behind only Baltimore's Marshal Yanda as the top guard in the NFL. Iupati is the highest-rated left guard in the league. Left tackle Joe Staley and center Jonathan Goodwin both rank fourth at their spots."They're playing really well," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "Everything we do starts with them, run and pass, starts up front. Those guys know that. We put a lot on them, and every week they seem to step up."Smith explained further the responsibilities of the line."Not just physically, mentally," he said. "Every week you can turn on the film - you play Minnesota, you play Green Bay -- with those fronts they get after the passer. A lot of the time you're seeing, every team is helping them, every team chips, every team slides, seven-man protections, eight-man protections, things like that. We put a lot on those guys. A lot of times we ask them to man up and it's one-on-one, and you've got to get it done and they do. It's a credit to them."Staley has had the most difficult assignments.He was asked to block Green Bay's Clay Matthews and Minnesota's Jared Allen one-on-one for most of those games. Matthews got past him for parts of three sacks, and Allen had a sackforced fumble at the end of the 49ers' loss to the Vikings. Staley's pass protection rating remains favorable because he allowed no other pressures in those games, and was dominant against the Detroit Lions and New York Jets.
Smith has been sacked 12 times in four games, but he has generally been afforded the time to throw from a clean pocket. Some of his sacks are from holding onto the ball and trying to extend the play.A year ago through four games, Smith had been sacked 14 times. Also, the 49ers averaged just 3.4 yards per rushing attempt. With four of the five starters on the offensive line returning, the continuity shows. This season, the 49ers are averaging 5.4 yards per rushing attempt, which ranks second in the league.
When asked how much that cohesion has meant to the line, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh answered, "Quite a bit. Cohesive group, enjoys each others' company. Respects each others' ability and each others' work ethic. Experience of playing amongst each other, are all key factors."The conversion of Boone from the top backup tackle to a starter at right guard has proven to be, well, a boon for the 49ers.Last season, the 49ers struggled to find an answer at right guard. Chilo Rachal opened the season as the starter but was benched at halftime of the third game. Adam Snyder stepped in and played the remainder of the season.The 49ers made no attempt to re-sign Snyder as an unrestricted free agent, and he signed a five-year, 17.5 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Before the Cardinals' game Thursday night, in which they allowed nine quarterback sacks against the St. Louis Rams, Snyder ranked last among all guards in the PFF rating system.Offensive coordinator Greg Roman appears satisfied with the play of the line, but he believes even-better days are ahead."I think we're just working for that consistency week-in week-out, down-in down-out," Roman said. "(I) feel that they can be an elite group. And I think they're working towards that. At times they are that. We've just got to keep working to where it's all the time, regardless of opponent. We're working towards that. So, those guys have a great attitude and that's where it all starts."

49ers' director of college scouting hired as Packers scout

49ers' director of college scouting hired as Packers scout

Matt Malaspina, who spent the past four years as the 49ers’ director of college scouting, has joined the Green Bay Packers’ player personnel department.

The Packers on Friday announced the hiring of Malaspina as a college scout.

Malaspina becomes the second high-ranking member of the 49ers’ scouting department to leave the organization in moves announced this week. On Wednesday, the 49ers announced assistant general manager Tom Gamble was no longer with the organization.

Malaspina spent 12 years with the 49ers after being an area scout with the Seattle Seahawks for five seasons. Before moving into the position as the 49ers’ director of college scouting, Malaspina was a national scout with the 49ers. He was responsible for cross-checking the southeast region, as well as top prospects across the country.

Shortly after being hired as 49ers general manager, John Lynch hired Adam Peters as vice president of player personnel and former Detroit GM Martin Mayhew as senior personnel executive to become his top two assistants.

49ers could talk QB trades at scouting combine

49ers could talk QB trades at scouting combine

Four years ago at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the 49ers agreed to the trade that sent quarterback Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Next week, the 49ers could have similar discussions. Only this time, they figure to be in the market to acquire a starting quarterback.

General manager John Lynch during an appearance this week on KNBR said he was excited about the talent he sees on the 49ers' offensive and defensive lines. But he made no secret of the organization’s intention to upgrade the quarterback position.

“Do we have some places – probably the ultimate position, quarterback – where we need to improve? Absolutely,” Lynch said. “And we’re committed to doing that.”

Seven weeks before the 49ers can add a quarterback in the draft, the team will have ample opportunities to find a solution in the veteran market. Free agency and the trade window open for all NFL teams on March 9.

Free-agent quarterback Matt Schaub, who had his best seasons under Kyle Shanahan with the Houston Texans, is a logical, low-price option for the 49ers to add as a backup. Schaub attempted just three passes last season as Matt Ryan’s backup with the Atlanta Falcons.

The 49ers could solve their long-term quarterback need with a blockbuster trade to acquire Washington’s Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo from New England.

Shanahan was part of the Washington regime that drafted Cousins in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. Shanahan disclosed during Super Bowl week that he had a high draft grade on Garoppolo, whom he scouted in 2014 while with the Cleveland Browns.

Paraag Marathe, the 49ers’ chief strategy officer and executive vice president of football operations, intimated this week on “The 49ers Insider Podcast” he has provided the team’s decision-makers with information on previous trades.

“Here are all the other examples of when this position was traded for, and what people gave up to trade,” Marathe said. “That would establish the range for us if we are curious about a player at that position. And then we have a discussion from there.”

Cousins will be 29 next season, while Garoppolo, who has just two NFL starts, will be 26.

Here’s a look at the significant trades in the past decade that have involved quarterbacks acquired to take on starting roles:

Sam Bradford, 29, from Philadelphia to Minnesota
--2017 first-round pick (No. 14 or 15)
--2018 fourth-round pick (TBD)

Alex Smith, 29, from 49ers to Kansas City
--2013 second-round pick (No. 34)
--2014 second-round pick (No. 56)

Carson Palmer, 32, from Cincinnati to Oakland
--2012 first-round pick (No. 17)
--2013 second-round pick (No. 37)

Kevin Kolb, 27, from Philadelphia to Arizona
--2012 second round pick (No. 51)
--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Donovan McNabb, 34, from Philadelphia to Washington
--2010 second-round pick (No. 37)
--2010 fourth-round pick (No. 104)

Jay Cutler, 26, and 2009 fifth-round pick (No. 140) from Denver to Chicago
--2009 first-round pick (No. 18)
--2009 third-round pick (No. 84)
--2010 first-round pick (No. 11)
--QB Kyle Orton

Matt Cassel, 27, and LB Mike Vrabel from New England to Kansas City
--2009 second-round pick (No. 34)

Matt Schaub, 26, and 2007 first-round pick (No. 10) from Atlanta to Houston
--2007 first-round pick (No. 8)
--2007 second-round pick (No. 39)
--2008 second-round pick (No. 48)
Source: Pro Football Reference