Niners’ big linemen making huge strides
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) – A few young men are quite literally making a big impression this week at the San Francisco 49ers’ rookie minicamp.
The 49ers improved their size in practically every area of their offense during the NFL draft, and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye already is envisioning how the new parts will fit into an attack that ranked 27th in the NFL last season.
“When you get 600 pounds of offensive linemen in the first round of the draft, then add another 240 pounds of runner to that, there would be room for optimism,” Raye said Saturday.
San Francisco selected Rutgers offensive tackle Anthony Davis with the No. 11 overall selection, then grabbed Idaho guard Mike Iupati with the 17th pick.
As the first offensive linemen selected among the top 20 picks in the draft by the 49ers since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger, Davis and Iupati have high expectations to make an impact on a unit that has struggled in recent seasons.
The team put Davis at right tackle and Iupati at left guard this week, where they’re expected to compete for starting roles once the rest of the veterans join the competition.
Against other rookies, undrafted free agents and tryout players, Davis and Iupati stand out in the trenches simply by their sheer size and talent.
“They’ve shown the athleticism, the quickness, the explosion, the power, the heavy hands, the ability to drop their weight, sink and anchor,” Raye said. “In the drills, they’ve shown all that.”
Actually, Raye was selling the pair a bit light in the size department. Davis carries 323 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame and the 6-5 Iupati tips the scales at 331, making him the heaviest player on the San Francisco roster.
That’s not by mistake. The 49ers are looking to get bigger and brawnier not just along their offensive line, but throughout their entire roster.
“(Coach Mike) Singletary, he brings in a lot of big guys,” Iupati said. “From what I’ve seen from the veterans here, they’re just big guys. I took 10 (pre-draft) visits, and this was the biggest offensive line group I saw.”
That meets a clear objective for the 49ers, who envision themselves by design as a power rushing team. San Francisco, however, finished 25th in the league last year in rushing offense despite featuring a Pro Bowl running back in Frank Gore.
“It makes it a little bit more obvious of what the coaches are doing here,” Davis said. “We are going to run the ball. We will run the ball.”
The 49ers got more help in that area during the draft by selecting running back Anthony Dixon and tight end Nate Byham in the sixth round.
Both fit well with the team’s new persona. Byham will be used like a third tackle in some situations and Dixon adds size to the backfield in short-yardage and goal-line situations.