New-look offensive line among big 49ers changes
SANTA CLARA, Calif (AP) – Chase Beeler walked into the San Francisco 49ers’ locker room for the first time and felt right at home. Everything from the motivational signs plastered along the walls to the coaching staff to the playbook was familiar.
Maybe only to the rookie.
After playing under coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, Beeler is competing for a spot on a 49ers offensive line that has more holes than highlights at the moment. For everyone but Beeler, the O-line overhaul has been one of the biggest changes this year.
“Frankly, it feels just like we’re back at Stanford,” he said.
For good reason, too.
Harbaugh has created an environment similar to his days just up the road with the Cardinal. He speaks the same lingo, uses the same acronyms and even redecorated the facility with his mantra.
There’s a list of things players should take care of – “Yourself, family and team” – and a banner that hangs leading out to the practice field that reads: “You Are Getting Better Or Getting Worse. You Never Stay The Same.” There’s also the definition of “relentless” across the weight room wall.
“I don’t think it’s Merriam-Webster’s definition,” Beeler said, chuckling.
Call it Harbaugh Speak.
All of it is a new language players are trying to grasp with little time to do so. The preseason opener is Aug. 12 at New Orleans, and there might not be a bigger learning curve than the offensive line.
San Francisco already has parted ways with two of last season’s starters, guard David Baas and center Eric Heitmann, and are relying on improvement from within after doing little in free agency. Baas signed with the New York Giants and the 49ers released Heitmann.
The key returning members are left tackle and leader Joe Staley and two 2010 first-round draft picks, right tackle Anthony Davis and left guard Mike Iupati. Both started every game as rookies.
Adam Snyder is the front-runner to move from guard to center. Beeler could also play center or switch to guard, and the team will likely sign at least one offensive lineman who could start.
“I’ve got high hopes,” Harbaugh said. “Good expectations, again, that we can keep improving with an offensive line that there’s been some shake-up, especially with a new system. It’s so important that those guys play well together. I think they got the right makeup to do that.”
The challenge of learning the new terminology has been difficult enough with the NFL lockout washing away minicamps and organized team activities. Now quarterback Alex Smith and other free agents can’t practice until the new league year begins Thursday – at the latest – under the new labor agreement.
Staley and Snyder took in some rookies during informal offseason workouts this summer organized by Smith, leading offensive line meetings during two separate four-day minicamps. With Smith trying to turnaround an otherwise sub-par career, the leaders on the line understand the 2005 No. 1 overall pick out of Utah won’t have a chance if he doesn’t get protection.
“We have a young room right now,” Staley said. “Not having the offseason. We didn’t have the whole offseason to really get the playbook and learn the full technique. Every rep we get out here really, really counts. So we’re going to have to take advantage of everything.”
The competition on the line figures to last through training camp and maybe beyond.
San Francisco hasn’t had a winning season or made the playoffs since 2002, and the struggles on the offensive line have been a major part of the drought. Harbaugh was hired away from Stanford in January to replace the ousted Mike Singletary, and he’s made the offensive line one of his first projects.
Beeler sees the similarities – besides the notable artwork – in Harbaugh’s transition to the 49ers and his Stanford days. The difference now is the larger stage – and greater expectations.
“I think we’ll click in pretty quickly,” Beeler said. “I think that’s the thing coach Harbaugh was so good at doing at Stanford, fostering an environment in training camp that brought people together. It’s hard to articulate exactly what that is or how he’s able to do it, but I see echoes of that here.”
Notes: The team officially released CB Nate Clements and signed K David Akers to a three-year deal. … San Francisco S C.J. Spillman signed his one-year tender. … The 49ers signed free agent fullback Jack Corcoran to a three-year deal. He was an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans in 2010. … 49ers cornerback Reggie Smith confirmed the team voted unanimously to recertify the players’ union.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: http://www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP