Trent Baalke, the San Francisco 49ers general manager, is in Mobile, Ala., this week to take a look at potential draft picks preparing for Saturday's Senior Bowl. New coach Jim Harbaugh, starting his third week on the job, is staying behind to continue evaluating players. There's a lot for both men to consider.
While Baalke is hoping to find players who can fill gaps in a roster that finished 6-10, Harbaugh is watching videotape and deciding which veterans he likes and which he can probably do without.
So maybe this is a good time to do our own evaluating. Starting today, we'll break down the team by offensive and defensive units, starting today with the offensive line.
There were certain to be growing pains after the Niners drafted two linemen, tackle Anthony Davis (11th overall pick) and guard Mike Iupati (17th overall pick), in the first round and coach Mike Singletary named them starters in training camp. Compounding the uncertainty of adding two rookies was an injury to starting center Eric Heitmann, who broke his left leg in camp, suffered a neck injury after he returned and was placed on injured reserve in November. He never got into a game.
Guard David Baas stepped in and played well after Heitmann went down, but there were problems in other areas. While Iupati proved to be a formidable blocker at the second level, Davis struggled at times and often cost the 49ers by picking up false-start penalties from the right side. Guard Chilo Rachal, a third-year player, had even bigger problems, struggling in both pass protection and run blocking. He was clearly the weak link on the line.
Veteran left tackle Joe Staley was having a good season until he suffered a broken fibula Nov. 14 against the St. Louis Rams and sat out the remainder of the season. Barry Sims stepped in and played capably.
The 49ers are expected to try and re-sign Baas, an unrestricted free agent. Heitmann could be forced into retirement because of his neck injury. The 49ers could bring in someone to compete with Rachal at right guard, and Davis and Iupati will benefit from one year of experience.