49ers' Offensive Line Depth has Been Key to the Team's Success
Heading into the 2019 season, offensive line depth appeared a significant issue for the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners now approach a crucial second-half stretch of the campaign likely to decide where they will land in the playoff picture and can do so knowing a lack of dependable reserve options upfront is no longer a concern.
San Francisco is set to be boosted by the returns of starting tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey for the Week 10 Monday Night Football clash with the Seattle Seahawks. Staley has missed six games while McGlinchey has been absent for four.
That the Niners have incredibly been able to stay unbeaten without both is a testament to numerous aspects of the team – Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan's scheming and the remarkable play of the defense to name a few – but chiefly to the hugely impressive play of replacements Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill.
Neither was expected to be able to fill the void of their more heralded teammates. However, sixth-round rookie Skule and Brunskill – who was playing in the Alliance of American Football earlier this year – have come through matchups with Aaron Donald, Chandler Jones, and the talented defensive front of the Carolina Panthers largely unscathed.
In his six games, Skule conceded four sacks, but has been widely praised for his ability to shake off his mistakes and produce consistently solid performances. NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger hailed Skule's display against Jones and Terrell Suggs of the Arizona Cardinals, pointing to his consistency of hand usage and ability to stay on his feet.
Brunskill's numbers have been nothing short of remarkable. In four starts, per Pro Football Focus (h/t Matt Barrows of The Athletic), he has allowed only one sack and just three quarterback hurries. He has also not committed a single penalty.
The success of the running game, Shanahan's creative scheming and the speed in which Garoppolo gets rid of the football will all have aided Skule and Brunskill. However, the relative comfort with which they have held up will provide the 49ers with great confidence they now have two backups they can rely on should there be further injuries to either Staley or McGlinchey.
Depth on the interior of the line is still a problem, yet Brunskill could also provide an option on the inside. He practiced at guard and center during the offseason and, according to Barrows, exceeded offensive line coach John Benton's expectations at every spot.
It would of course still be a hugely damaging blow if the 49ers were to lose to center Weston Richburg or either of their guards – Mike Person and Laken Tomlinson – to injury. However, going into the season the prospect of any injury to the offensive line was a disastrous one and, thanks to the emergence of Skule and particularly the versatile Brunskill, that is no longer the case.