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News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

November 6, 2007
Ch-ch-ch-changes on 49ers o-line

Mike Nolan's first order of business upon becoming head coach of the 49ers was to solidify the team's offensive line. So it's only logical that the state of the Nolan regime mirrors the state of that line. That is, both are in disarray. The following is a player-by-player analysis of the o-line, and how things might shake out next season:

LG Larry Allen. It's very difficult to see him coming back for another season. Allen did an excellent job shedding weight in the offseason but at his age - he turns 36 later this month - he simply can't move like he used to. In fact, Mike Nolan on Monday pointed to Allen's stamina on that fateful fourth-quarter drive in Atlanta as one of the reasons he called a timeout on the goal line. Nolan said virtually the same thing last year when explaining why he called timeout before a critical third-down play in St. Louis. The 49ers' play following those timeouts - they ran left, behind Allen -- failed in both instances.

RG David Baas: He still does not play aggressively enough in the run game, but he looks like the long-term solution at right guard. With Justin Smiley's injury issue, the 49ers don't have much choice.

LT Patrick Estes: With one, probably two, offensive linemen headed for injured reserve, the 49ers will give the former seventh-round draft pick a long look.

T Kwame Harris: Remember him? At one point, the 49ers were willing to trade Harris for a fifth-round draft choice. Now he becomes the top back-up at both tackle positions and you start to wonder whether the 49ers could use an experienced lineman like Harris next season.

C Eric Heitmann: He's been playing well lately. Heitmann is signed through 2008 but would love to get an extension sooner.

LT Jonas Jennings: The big mystery. Players love the charismatic Jennings - after all, they voted him as one of their players' association representatives. The coaches? Mmmm - not so much. He was Mike Nolan's first big free-agent acquisition but has not been a "Mike Nolan" kind of player, missing half of the 49ers' games with an assortment of injuries. He also missed a game this season due to an undisclosed "private matter" and has been excoriated in the media by former 49ers Derrick Deese and Ronnie Lott. The 49ers will place Jennings on injured reserve due to an ankle that needs surgery. When asked if Jennings factors into the 49ers' plans next season, Nolan paused and said, "That's a surprise question. ... Sure, all our players on our football team would be (in our future plans) right now. No question." Which is to say, it was hardly a ringing endorsement for the left tackle. The salary-cap hit for cutting Jennings, however, would hurt.

OL Adam Snyder: Poor Snyder can't shake the role of "swing" lineman. After practicing mostly at left guard this offseason, Snyder - predictably - has seen the most action filling in for Jennings at left tackle. He's had his hands full with Will Smith and John Abraham, and the feeling among team officials is that Snyder's most natural, and future, position is guard. If Allen, Jennings and Harris don't return next season, however, the 49ers will have to stick someone at right tackle, and it could be Snyder.

RG Justin Smiley: He'll fly to Alabama today and meet with noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews tomorrow. It's looking that, at best, he'll miss several games with a badly torn right labrum (shoulder). At worst, he'll have surgery and, like Jennings, be placed on injured reserve. Smiley was supposed to use this season as a springboard to a big free-agent payday. His value likely has diminished because of the injury and because of inconsistent play. However, another team likely will offer Smiley more than the 49ers are willing to pay.

Joe Staley: Despite one wicked stretch against Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck, Staley has been everything the 49ers have asked this season. He'll remain at right tackle for the remainder of the year but eventually will move to his more natural position, left tackle. With all sorts of issues swirling around Jennings, the question is when Staley will make the move.

Tony Wragge: Seldom-used this season, Wragge will figure heavily into the 49ers' future plans. If Snyder remains at tackle, Wragge could play left guard in 2008.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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