The 'great rookie lineman experiment' got off to a predictably bad start for the 49ers in Week 1. Playing in one of the loudest venues in the league, Seattle's Qwest Field, right tackle Anthony Davis gave up two sacks, left guard Mike Iupati barely got off the line of scrimmage and a rattled 49ers team lost 31-6. The defeat set the tone for the first half of the season.
The 49ers figured the two rookies would struggle early. With offensive line coach Mike Solari's blessing, Mike Singletary made them starters in early August in the hope that by the second half of the season - when the 49ers ostensibly would make a playoff run - they would have settled down and congealed with the rest of the line.
Iupati has developed according to plan and has been impressive since the bye week. He gets down field in an eye blink, and it seems he's overcome his flaw of being over-aggressive in pass protection and allowing his man to shed him. This publication ranks Iupati second among rookies this season (Behind another guy in the NFC West) and feels he's the fifth-best guard in the league already.
For Davis, the 11th overall pick in the draft, it's been a rougher road. He's among the league leaders in both penalties and sacks allowed. He's been wildly inconsistent throughout the season, but he also has shown recent signs of stabilization. His last two games, in which he's faced such disparate defenders as Arizona's Darnell Dockett and Green Bay's Clay Matthews, have been his best two games of the season. (Davis had two penalties against Arizona; none against Green Bay).
Tackle Joe Staley recalled a sequence in Green Bay in which Davis thwarted a third-down move by Matthews and then told Staley on the sideline that he'd seen, in film study, the linebacker make that move early in games.
"It just shows right there that he's putting in the work and he knows what to expect. And that's exciting to see out of a rookie," Staley said. "He's got all the talent in the world, and that's why we drafted him in the first round. He's a gifted athlete to be so big and move the way he does."
Staley said one of the toughest tasks for a rookie tackle is having a good game and then building off that performance. Indeed, it may explain Davis' pattern of bad game, good game, bad game this season. But Staley said he feels that Davis is turning a corner in that regard.
"For him it's putting it all together and being consistent," he said. "Not getting complacent and not getting satisfied with one game and instead carrying that through the whole season."
Said Mike Singletary of his rookies: "They paid their dues early on, and it shows."
Davis and Iupati officially have been starters since Aug. 8. They worked with both the first- and second-team offensive lines throughout training camp and they played a lot longer in the preseason games their their first-string counterparts. With that in mind, i asked Singletary today whether there was any fear that the duo would hit the so-called "rookie wall" this season.
"We didn't have time to hit a wall," Singletary said. "They really didn't. I think so many things were happening -- the constant changes -- we didn't have time to look around and be tired, hit a wall. We just didn't."
The 49ers have allowed 30 sacks through 12 games, which puts them on pace to finish with the exact same sack total - 40 - as last season. However, they've allowed 74 quarterback hits this season, according to NFL stats. Only three teams have allowed more. If they continue on that pace, they'll give up 99 QB hits this season after allowing 84 last year.
-- Matt Barrows