49ers offensive line makes strides


As the San Francisco 49ers continue to prepare for their first round of preseason play this Saturday against the Houston Texans, there remains some areas of concerns that the squad has not been able to iron out over the last two weeks of camp.

Perhaps the most lingering and persistent point of concern has been the play of the offensive line.

However, the 49ers first-team line turned a corner during Wednesday’s practice, providing quarterback Colin Kaepernick ample time to operate in the pocket, leading to perhaps the offenses most productive day yet.

Things got underway with a bang, as TE Vance McDonald opened up 11-on-11’s with a sprawling 40-yard catch who was able to corral the ball near the ground for a big pickup.

Kaepernick continued to find his receivers including Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and even Reggie Bush for a good pickup out of the backfield throughout practice.

But the highlight of the day came as Kaepernick and the first-team offense ran a red zone drill during 11-on-11’s.

TE Vernon Davis, who has had a resurgence of late on offense, sprinted up the middle up the field under the double coverage of CB Tremaine Brock and S Craig Dahl, who was playing with the first-team defense while S Antoine Bethea got a veteran’s day off.

Despite the tight coverage, Kaepernick launched a bullet that split the defenders and landed in the hands of Davis for the score.

Davis, perhaps light heartedly, taunted Brock before being met by Kaepernick in the end zone for a celebration.

The pass was made possible by the stout protection of the offensive line, who have had trouble fending off the 49ers defense recently.

Although the unit will have to show consistency before any real confidence is inspired, 49ers offensive coordinator Geep Chryst spoke earlier in the day about the group’s progression:

“You know, the line is really improving. You guys that are there every day, you see how we’re trying to find the right combination and we’ve just liked the progress. But, there are still mistakes that are made that we notice when a play goes south on us, but we really like the techniques and we like to see the technique that we’re working on in individual group period come to life on those team plays, when it’s 11-on-11’s.”

Chryst said the coaching staff is unsure how much playing time the squad will see together during Saturday’s preseason game, however, one could expect that the unit might see a little more action than normal as the redesigned line continues to search for familiarity and chemistry.

Things weren’t without a hitch on Wednesday though, as Joe Looney, who has stepped into the role of starting center, launched an errant snap out of the reach of Kaepernick, who had to smother it on the ground for a loss.

Looney, who spent much of last year at guard, still has ways to go in order to develop consistency as a ball handler with the first-team offense. However, Chryst remained enthused and optimistic about Looney’s new role:

“We talk about the skilled players and you’re thinking the eligible receivers and then you’ve got the linemen, which by default makes them the unskilled players. But, really that’s a skill that we’re trying to get better for all those guys and I see with Joe that he’s probably the most natural center because he’s played in a game. Marcus played some, remember his first start was that home game against the Rams, but Joe’s been around the longest and has played the most amount of center. So, I think he’s, I’ll use the term naturally comfortable with it.”

Other Camp Notes

While the first team offensive line had a strong showing, the second unit did not, letting multiple players reach quarterback Blaine Gabbert for “sacks.”

WR DeAndrew White has been the buzz of training camp, as the undrafted receiver continued to make his presence felt while making big plays in nearly every practice.

White continued his strong showing with a couple nice grabs during Wednesday’s practice. Perhaps more important though is his contributions on special teams, as White’s quickness makes him a valuable gunner.

That skill set will play heavily on the coaches minds when it comes time to cut the roster to 53 men.

No it wasn’t anywhere near the magnitude of the Carolina Panthers or New York Jets fiasco’s, but the first scuffle of camp took place between T Erik Pears and DL Tony Jerod-Eddie.

Tempers flaired after Pears went to the ground near Jerod-Eddie, who exchanged shoves after Pears got to his feet.

Things didn’t escalate any further despite both units coming together in the middle, and coach Tomsula voiced his displeasure after players were separated.

The 49ers prepared for their road game against Houston by blaring “Highway To Hell” By AC/DC to open practice. Not really the best title choice, but it forced the units to work under road game conditions.

Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the San Francisco 49ers.

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