49ers Offensive Tackles.....Help!
There was one sequence in Sunday’s game against the Giants that summed up the 49er season. With the Giants ahead by just 3-0 with 1:18 left, Brandon Lloyd made an incredible leaping catch of a Cody Pickett pass on the New York 2. The 49ers seemed poised to score a touchdown and go into the dressing room leading. But, wait a minute. Left tackle Anthony Clement was called for holding.
Two plays later, Clement was called for a false start. On the following play, right tackle Kwame Harris was called for a false start. Now, the 49ers were shoved back to their own 47. Trying to make something happen, Pickett forced a throw, which was intercepted. The Giants then went downfield to score.
So, instead of the 49ers leading, 7-3, it was the Giants who took a 10-0 lead into the dressing room, and the game was effectively over.
It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of play from the 49ers offensive tackles, and it won’t be the last.
Harris had had probably his best game with the 49ers the previous week against Tampa Bay, when the 49ers concentrated on their running game. Blocking for the run, Harris is adequate, but he doesn’t have the quick feet a tackle needs for pass protection. He had three false starts Sunday, and he admitted that it came from trying to get the jump on the Giants’ quick defensive end, Michael Strahan.
The real problem, though, is at the left tackle spot. I have no idea why Clement is still starting. The Niners should have put rookie Adam Snyder, the Pac-10 offensive linemen of the year as a tackle at Oregon last season, in that spot. He would undoubtedly make mistakes, but he has an upside, which Clement lacks. Snyder did play Sunday, but it was at guard, when Eric Heitman went down.
The hope has been that Jonas Jennings would come back from injury, but I doubt he’ll even play the rest of the season. Once again, the 49ers took on damaged goods. Jennings missed the last four games of last season because he was injured. At his healthy best, Jennings is an average tackle. He was signed because owner John York wanted to make a statement that he was willing to spend money, but the idea, John, is to spend wisely, not just spend.
When a coach inherits a 2-14 team, the first order of business should be identifying players who can be key elements three years down the road, when, hopefully, the team can be good again. The 49ers best players on both side of the ball, Bryant Young and Jeremy Newberry, probably won’t even be here at that time, so it’s vital to look at the young players to see what they can do.
Yet, Mike Nolan has been reluctant to put Snyder and David Baas, the No. 2 pick, on the field. Baas was injured in training camp and fell behind, and he’s backing up Newberry, who could go down at any time. He’s also backing up guards Heitman and Justin Smiley, who are decent, so there’s more reason to hold him out. But with the horrendous tackle play are getting, there’s no reason not to give Snyder his chance.
THE OFFENSIVE line weaknesses clouded the picture for Cody Pickett, making his first start at quarterback.
Overall, I thought Pickett did well. He only forced one pass, that interception just before halftime, which is unusual for a young quarterback. He showed some poise in handling the pass rush, and his mobility allowed him to escape and even run for yardage on a couple of planned plays. He generally threw well, although his deep passes were thrown in the vicinity of a receiver, not right on target. The Lloyd catch, for instance, could easily have been an interception. That type of deep passing can be successful in college but seldom works in the NFL, where defensive backs are much more skilled. Pickett will have to work on his accuracy on throws down the field.
Still, it’s remarkable how well he did, considering his lack of preparation. Because he originally had three quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart, he’s only had a chance to play quarterback in practice for the last two weeks. The game plan had to be seriously restricted because of that, so it was unrealistic to expect any more of Pickett than what we got.
He deserves another shot at starting. Nolan was noncommital about that yesterday, saying it depended on how fast Ken Dorsey recovered from his ankle injury. I can’t believe Nolan would give Dorsey another start over Pickett. We’ve seen enough of Dorsey to know what he can do and, more importantly, what he can’t. He doesn’t have the mobility to escape the rush and, when he inevitably has to throw off his back foot, can’t get enough on his throws. He’s a serviceable backup but not a starter.
At this point, I’m reluctant to make any predictions about Pickett’s future, but he does have the physical ability to be a starter. When Alex Smith returns from his injury, Nolan will have another decision to make, but he has to work with Smith and Pickett to see who can do the job in the future. It would not make sense for the 49ers to go for another quarterback in the draft.
THE NEXT question is: Where will the 49ers be drafting?
At one point, it seemed that they’d be battling the Houston Texans for the No. 1 pick, and they meet in the final game, on New Year’s Day at Candlestick. Now, though, it’s far from certain because there are a number of really bad teams in the NFL this year. Currently, there are two teams with only one win, six (including the Niners) with two wins, another five with three wins.
If the 49ers are in the top three on draft day, they could trade that pick to get an additional pick or two. If they steal another win or two, though, they could be drafting as low as No. 8, and that pick wouldn’t be worth much in a trade.
But wherever they are, they’ve got to look for offensive linemen high. It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is if you can’t protect him.
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