Following last month's draft, there was a chorus of complaints that the 49ers didn't take an offensive tackle, their greatest position of need. Well, it turns out they did. Coach Mike Nolan said Tuesday that the plan is to move second-round pick Chilo Rachal, a guard at USC, to right tackle when OTAs commence on Monday. When Rachal was drafted, there was talk that he might get a chance to play tackle at some point but that he would start off at guard. Nolan, however, said that the switch to tackle would happen right away and he hoped it would be permanent.
Rachal played guard during the minicamp early last month. But the 49ers believe he might be better suited to play tackle. "To me, he looked like a tackle from the day I saw him," Nolan said. "He's high cut and he's got long arms." Rachal bolstered that opinion during the minicamp when he showed good athleticism while backing up Tony Wragge at right guard. Nolan also said that Rachal wants to play tackle. And why wouldn't he? There's less of a logjam at the position, meaning Rachal could see playing time right away. Tackles also tend to be better compensated than guards when their contracts are extended.
Another, and perhaps bigger, issue is that the 49ers are bare-boned when it comes to offensive tackle. They've got Joe Staley on the left side, Jonas Jennings on the right. Behind them? Crickets chirping. As we all know painfully well by now, Jennings has a tendency to get hurt. A lot. He has yet to make it through a 16-game schedule in seven years in the league. He wasn't full go at the minicamp and he may not be full-go at OTAs. Which is why it will be an ideal situation for Rachal to come in and learn the ropes. He'll get plenty of reps.
Right about now, you're all screaming, "What about Damane Duckett?!?!" Well, I asked Nolan about that. He said he's a huge fan of Duckett's and noted his massive size and how well he's adapted to his new position. But the fact of the matter, Nolan said, is that Duckett is a converted defensive linemen who never has played tackle in a real game. "Believe me, I'd love it if Duckett played," Nolan said. "He looks the part. But if you haven't grown up (on the offensive line) it's hard to do some things." Nolan said it might be too much to expect Duckett to have mastered everything from technique to blocking schemes to thinking on the fly should Jennings get hurt this season. Simply put, the team believes Rachal will be the better back-up.
What will this mean for the rest of the offsensive line? It's early and things could change, but the thinking right now is that if something happens to Staley, Jennings would slide back to left tackle and Rachal would step in on the right. At guard, Wragge will continue to fill in on the right side while David Baas recovers from his torn pectoral. Adam Snyder would remain at left guard. And remember, rookie Cody Wallace gives the team some wiggle room on the interior of the line. He could replace an injured Eric Heitmann at center. Or if there were injury issues at guard, Heitmann could play there while Wallace filled in at center.
-- Matt Barrows