Thursday’s preseason clash with the Dallas Cowboys provided the San Francisco 49ers and Niner Faithful with the first look at the squad’s revamped offensive line, which returns only Joe Staley from 2017’s Week 1 starting lineup. How did the Niners fare?
For a sense of exactly what San Francisco was up against in its preseason-opening home tilt against the Dallas Cowboys, Pro Football Focus ranked Dallas’ defensive line as the No. 8 pass-rushing unit but just the No. 30 run-defending group heading into the 2018 campaign. Of course, this doesn’t mean as much as it would for a regular season tussle since most of each team’s starters only played on the opening possession, but it was still interesting to see the Niners go up against a solid bunch in a matchup that produced mixed results for the red and gold’s new-look unit.
Here are four notes after watching San Francisco’s offensive line in a live game for the first time.
1. Mike McGlinchey’s tough test against DeMarcus Lawrence
Mike McGlinchey didn’t exactly get a chance to stick his toe in the water on Thursday night, as he was charged with the task of containing Demarcus Lawrence in his first taste of NFL action. According to Sports Info Solutions, Lawrence generated a higher pressure rate than any other defensive lineman last season at 17.1 percent, and Pro Football Focus ranked him as the top edge rusher in the league with a grade of 91.6.
Of course, the second-team All-Pro defensive end may not have exactly been going all-out in the preseason opener, but McGlinchey’s ability to hang in there against a truly elite defender certainly suggests that San Francisco’s first-round draft pick is ready to rock in the NFL.
The only blatant hiccup came off McGlinchey’s block, got inside and laid an uncontested shot on Jimmy Garoppolo as he released the ball, though the play still resulted in an 18-yard completion to Marquise Goodwin.
An abbreviated test for McGlinchey, but one that he passed with flying colors, especially considering who he was up against.
2. Extra time for Mike Person
Along with McGlinchey, Mike Person was San Francisco’s only starting offensive lineman to stay on the field past the first series, and the well-traveled vet made the most of it, holding his own in pass protection and only being noticeably driven backward on one occasion in the ground game.
On C.J. Beathard’s 33-yard completion deep down the right side of the field to Aldrick Robinson on 2nd-and-11 early in the second quarter, Person (and McGlinchey) gave up some ground but still held firm against Dallas’ hard-charging pass rushers, allowing Beathard enough time to get the ball away for the big gainer.
Person is in the middle of a highly contested three- or (even four-man battle if you include Erik Magnuson) for the starting right guard gig, and with fellow candidates Josh Garnett and Jonathan Cooper inactive due to knee injuries, San Francisco’s seventh-round pick from 2012 used Thursday’s clash to get an early leg up in his first game back with his old squad.
3. The pass protection was better than the run blocking
While San Francisco’s run blocking could best be described as inconsistent in the preseason opener, the pass protection was on point, as San Francisco consistently kept all three of its signal-callers upright and didn’t yield a sack. Not too shabby considering the unit was up against Pro Football Focus No. 8-ranked pass-rush (again, the starters didn’t play for very long, but San Francisco’s entire roster combining to not yield a single sack is nevertheless impressive).
On the flip side, the starting unit struggled with run blocking in an extremely small sample size, as evidenced by the play of Jerick McKinnon, who took the rock three times for negative-four yards. The former Viking stumbled on one of his carries as he attempted to bounce the play to the outside, but he had no chance on the other two, getting swallowed up in the backfield almost immediately after getting the ball.
All was not lost in the ground game, as Raheem Mostert found daylight while taking the rock eight times for 57 yards, though San Francisco averaged only 3.77 yards per carry as a team, so it’s fair to say the run blocking could stand to improve at Houston in Week 2.
4. Garry Gilliam’s injury and what it could mean
Garry Gilliam, who missed some practice time in July due to an elbow injury, exited Thursday’s preseason opener after sustaining an apparent head injury.
While Gilliam is coming off a season in which he was only on the field for 65 plays (he did not come close to qualifying for Pro Football Focus’ tackle rankings, though he would have been No. 33 out of 79 at the position if that was enough snaps to qualify), the fifth-year pro still carries value for San Francisco, as he was perhaps in position to open the season as the top backup at right and left tackle.
His injury – especially if it’s one that will keep him out for a while – makes it even more imperative that Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey stay on the field, as San Francisco simply doesn’t have the depth at tackle to withstand losing the grizzled vet or the first-round rookie to injury.
With Matt Breida, George Kittle and Solomon Thomas also leaving the game prematurely on a night when San Francisco sustained more than its fair share of injuries, Gilliam’s early exit flew a bit under the radar, but it’s still a tough loss for the offensive line.
If Gilliam misses next Saturday’s preseason clash against the Texans or any of the following tilts, look for the void to potentially be filled by the versatile Erik Magnuson (57.2 grade from Pro Football Focus as a center last season; would have been ranked 31st out of 35 centers if he played enough snaps to qualify), who has become something of a Swiss army knife for San Francisco’s offensive line and has a strong chance to make the 53 due in large part to his ability to play multiple positions.
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