Players have been training now for some weeks, and Saturday lost to the Indianapolis Colts in their third Preseason game. The season opener is less than two weeks away and there is still plenty of work that needs to be done.
Lynchahan (yes that is my nickname for John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan) must trim down our roster from 90 players to 53 by 4: pm EST on September 1st. While there are plenty of position battles, in my opinion the biggest one is at right guard. Last year the Niners gave up a horrible 43 sacks with most of them coming from the interior of the Niners’ o-line. That number must drastically come down. While Jimmy G Cool will take care of a lot of those sacks with his insanely quick release, the Niners must get improved play from our guards if they plan on having sustained success offensively this year. With that being said let us take a look at who the Niners have competing for the two starting guards this season.
Laken Tomlinson’s fifth year option wasn’t picked up by the team this offseason raising some questions about his future as a Niner. The team put any of these worries to bed when they signed him to a 3 year, $18 million extension in June with $10 million of it guaranteed locking him in as the starting left guard. In my opinion, the extension means the Niners like Tomlinson and see him as a starter whose play improved as the season went along, though it took Tomlinson a few games to adjust to Kyle Shanahan’s offence after getting traded to the Niners August 31st of last year.
The trade seemingly came about due to Tomlinson’s connection to Martin Mayhew, the 49ers’ Senior Personnel Executive under John Lynch who drafted Tomlinson when he was the Lions’ GM. He is clearly he is someone who the Niners feel has untapped potential.
With Tomlinson’s salary being only $2.9 million in 2018 and $3.8 million in 2019, I would find it hard to believe he wouldn’t make the final 53 man roster coming out of training camp. The year to watch is 2020 when Tomlinson’s salary jumps to over $5 million. Tomlinson was the starter from week 2 till the end of the season last year and as I stated before his play did improve as the season went along and he finished the year with a PFF overall grade of 70.7, a Run blocking grade of 76.2 and a pass blocking grade of 51.2. That passing grade must improve if he hopes to remain the started this year and beyond.
The Niners signed Cooper on a one-year deal that could be worth as much as $4.95 million and includes a $2 million signing bonus this off season. Cooper will get the first shot at being the Niners starting right guard to start the season after starting a career high 13 games for the crygirl’s last season.
Cooper rehab from off-season knee surgery has been slow but, he is finally healthy enough to play the last two weeks. Seeing playing time mostly with the third and fourth stringers. Although Cooper is on his fifth team in 4 seasons since being drafted by in 1st-round (7th overall) by the Cardinals John Lynch saw enough last year to think we was worth signing saying “He played very well, in our minds, for Dallas last year, and he kind of resurrected his career. He’s battled injuries, but we really like the way he played and we feel he’s a very good fit for what we do. So we were pleased to have him.”
Cooper’s calling card coming out of college was his athleticism, perfect for Shanahan’s scheme. In 2017 Cooper had an overall PFF grade of 67 – not the best number but still an improvement over anything the Niners had at right guard last year. The Niners were playing him at left guard making me think the Niners are trying to see if he can play both spots as a backup.
The second former first round pick the Niners have competing to be the starting right guard is Joshua Garnett. Garnett spent the entire 2017 season recovering from knee surgery and reshaping his body to be a better fit for Kyle Shanahan’s outside zone scheme. Reports are that Garnett dropped upwards of 25 to 30 lbs. over the last year and is in great shape.
Given his poor play as a rookie and injury hit second season, Garnett is considered to be a bust so far in his career and much like Cooper, I believe Garnett must earn a starting job in order to make the roster and maybe even continue his NFL career. In my opinion, the best case scenario for Garnett is he gets traded for draft picks and gets a fresh start somewhere else. Like Cooper, Garnett is finally healthy and has played the last two weeks. Garnett has been rotating with Person at starting right guard. Garnett seems to still be in a battle for the starting job but most likely will end up having to beat out Cooper for the backup role.
Originally drafted as the second of three seventh-round draft picks (239th overall) by the Niners in the 2011 NFL Draft, Mike Person returns to the team and seems to have locked up the starting right guard job for now. Person has experience at guard, but also started at center for four games for the Indianapolis Colts last season, and 14 games for the Atlanta Falcons in 2015 under Shanahan. He’s versatility will make it hard to keep him off the roster this year since he can play so many positions and the Niners will more than likely only keep seven offensive linemen on the 53 man roster. That makes it hard to keep a backup that can only play one position like Cooper or Garnett. Person has still been the starting right guard inspire the return of Cooper and Garnett.
Najee Toran was a two-year starter at guard for UCLA, and also played on the defensive side of the ball. Toran is an interesting developmental project who could land on the 49ers’ practice squad. But I don’t believe he will make any real push to make the 53 man roster
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