One of the few positional units that played with midseason polish during Monday Night Football’s sloppy late game between the Vikings and 49ers was the San Francisco offensive line that paved the way for Carlos Hyde’s 168 yard, two-touchdown breakout performance. Like most groups on the 49ers’ roster, the offensive line underwent a world of change this off-season. After a poor preseason, many questioned whether this new-look group would ever come close to matching the dominant offensive lines the 49ers fielded for so much of the past four or five seasons. For one week, anyhow, they did.
One of the few constants of the 49ers' offensive line, and the roster as a whole, is left tackle Joe Staley, who is among the league’s best at his position. Staley, a first-round pick by San Francisco in 2007, has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of the past four seasons. He’s also a stalwart in the locker room, known for his unique brand of leadership and levity.
I chatted with Staley this week about the potential of his new starting running back, the special qualities of Jim Tomsula and what he really thinks about his team’s new black uniforms.
Melissa Jacobs: Carlos Hyde largely credited you for his monster game. How good is this kid?
Joe Staley: He’s awesome. He could be one of the best in the NFL. He has so much talent and great vision and what we’re doing schematically really fits his strengths. He said he felt like he was back out there at Ohio State, and what he did there is why we drafted him. You all got a glimpse of what we saw the whole off-season. It wasn’t too surprising for us but for everyone else, maybe a little bit.
MJ: You mentioned schematics. What in [offensive coordinator] Geep Chryst’s playbook is particularly beneficial, and do you foresee more of a commitment to the ground game this year?
JS: Every game is its own thing. It’s nothing we’ll do every week. But Monday was a real credit to our defense and gave us the patience to stick with our game plan, which was really to establish the run. You see a lot of people get in trouble with that defensive front. We were able to stick with the run and the tempo so we definitely have an advantage.
MJ: How difficult was the off-season in San Francisco with virtually every media member deciding you would be terrible and mocking your choice of a new head coach?
JS: I honestly don’t pay much attention. But that’s kind of expected. You have a lot of turnover, a new head coach. Automatically everyone thinks the sky is falling. What we worry about as a team are the people here every day putting in the work and people who want to be here and win games. That’s the focus.
MJ: Obviously there are a lot of differences between your old coach and you new one, differences that probably span several categories. To you, what’s the biggest difference between Jim Harbaugh and Jim Tomsula?
JS: They both have a wealth of knowledge, and they’re both great head coaches. I don’t want to get into the positives and negatives of either, but I’m playing for Coach Tomsula right now.
He’s done a great job making sure people are fresh going into Week 1. If you looked at our injury report going into Week 1 we only had one guy listed, and he dressed and played. That’s a tribute to how Coach Tomsula approached the off-season, taking care of guys' bodies and making sure they got enough reps to where they were ready but going into the season fresh. Tomsula does a great job communicating with the guys and leaning on the veterans. He’s really receptive to the veteran dudes and takes a lot of feedback, too, which is nice. Not to say that Harbaugh didn’t do that all, because he did, but it’s one of the strengths of Jimmy. He’s a player’s guy and has a lot of guys he trusts. But you have to earn that trust.
MJ: Leading into the preseason The MMQB ran a great, in-depth Tomsula story that covered a lot of bases. Still, tell us one thing about “Jimmy T” we don’t already know.
JS: His first year was my first year. He was probably one of the most loved coaches for the entire time I was here. He already has that respect, the admiration. He’s one of the most knowledgeable guys, one of the most passionate and he doesn’t think about football the way a typical coach does. He thinks about it more as a player. He understands the passion and emotion. And he understands the mental aspect.
MJ: In July, you made an exciting announcement that “The Joe Show”, the Internet smash where you “ask teammates stupid questions” is returning after a two-year hiatus.
JS: I had toyed with it coming back but I may keep it on the shelf for a while. Consider this a teaser. I want to keep everyone on their toes.
MJ: Be honest. Are you shelving your show because Jarryd Hayne is such a hard get these days?
JS: I’m pretty sure if I had my show I could get Jarryd. [Laughs.]
MJ: Did you get a chance to check out The Guardian’s live blog of your game?
JS: I did and it was hilarious. I loved how he didn’t understand why we have so many commercials.
MJ: OK, just a couple of quick-hit questions. Who are the top three left tackles in the NFL?
JS:Joe Thomas and Jason Peters are the two guys who really come to mind. I’d like to think of myself as one of the top but I also think that’s kind of vain to talk about yourself that way. I really admire those guys and one of the young guys think will be good for a really long time is Taylor Lewan, the left tackle for the Titans. I love watching him on film.
MJ: If you were NFL commissioner for a day, what’s your first change?
JS: I would hire an outside disciplinary council.
MJ: On a scale of 1–10, how much do you miss Candlestick Park?
JS: That’s a loaded question. I’ll pass on that one. [Laughs.]
MJ: That means you have to answer my last question, which is how would you rank your alternative black uniforms on a scale of hideous to ridiculously hideous?
JS: I loved them. I thought they were great. I don’t know why everyone was hating on them.