Through three preseasons games, the San Francisco 49ers’ offense is last in the NFL in points (8.0), yards (293.3) and passing yards (149.7). But they don’t appear overly concerned.
"I’ve never seen worrying help anyone’s problems or help them get better. So, we’re not going to worry," a confident Colin Kaepernick said Tuesday.
It’s only the preseason, and San Francisco is one of the most battle-tested teams in the league, coming off three consecutive trips to the conference title game and a Super Bowl appearance. Players have been rested, game plans have been simplified.
If there’s a silver lining in the fog of preseason struggles; the starters have stayed healthy on that side of the ball. And they don’t figure to play much in Thursday’s exhibition finale against the Houston Texans.
But the 49ers never want to see their quarterback hit, especially in the preseason. Kaepernick was drilled repeatedly by the Chargers Sunday, forcing two fumbles, doing most of their damage against the left side of the offensive line, where the 49ers have one of the best tandems in the league in tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati.
It was a notably discouraging performance from the former All-Pro left guard, who was beaten by Chargers lineman Corey Liuget repeatedly. Iupati received Pro Football Focus’ lowest grade of any 49ers starter for Sunday's performance.
Iupati owned up to his poor play during the week, light-heartedly speaking with reporters about his rough day and some tough love he received from his quarterback.
"(Kaepernick) was just saying, 'Come on, Mike. Do better.' It’s just part of football," Iupati said.
Diagnosing his flaws on the game tape was elementary for the two-time Pro Bowler. "Sometimes you lose some, you win some," Iupati said. "(It was) mainly technique. I’m not worried about it. Easy fix."
Kaepernick echoed that sentiment, noting a poor preseason showing won’t cause him to lose trust in his blockers.
"Our offensive line is probably the most in-tuned offensive line in the league, I would say, as far as knowing what we’re doing, knowing what their assignments are and being on top of things. When you have a physical mistake, you don’t go back to the drawing board," Kaepernick said.
The offensive line will likely enter the season with two new starters for the first time since Jim Harbaugh became head coach. Jonathan Goodwin wasn’t re-signed after three seasons at center, and there appears to be no change in the stalemate between right guard Alex Boone and the front office regarding a new contract. He’s been away from the team during the entire offseason program and training camp.
Starting right tackle Anthony Davis returned to the practice field last week after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. He has yet to play in the preseason and will likely wait to make his game debut in the regular season opener. Newcomer Jonathan Martin has played right tackle in his place and has gradually improved after battling mononucleosis in the spring.
Daniel Kilgore will take over at center and has not started a game since getting drafted in the fifth round in 2011. With Boone away, Joe Looney will be the team’s right guard, who was drafted the following season in the fourth round. The chemistry they developed while working together as reserves has helped. Both have played well in the last two preseason games.
"(Looney’s) been with me for three years so there is that chemistry. Just like if somebody knew were to step in over time we’d build that chemistry. The more reps you get together, the better chemistry," said Kilgore.
Despite never starting, Kilgore’s new role hasn’t changed his day-to-day approach. Continuity - the same offense, the same coaching staff for his entire career - has helped him integrate into the starting lineup with relative ease. To that end, Jim Harbaugh's been impressed with Kilgore's unblemished knowledge of the playbook.
"He’s got a quick mind. He’s done a very good job with making the calls and understanding the system. And he’s on a streak of not missing a call now for … I can’t remember the last time he missed a call," Harbaugh said.
Like any position on the field, inexperience brings question marks. And the interior of the offensive line will be the focal point for opposing defenses to attack, particularly if Boone doesn’t rejoin the team soon.
The 49ers will need better play from the line when the regular season starts Sept. 7 in Dallas. With pressure on the new-look group to protect its franchise quarterback, they will need to prove Sunday's game against the Chargers was an outlier and not a sign of things to come.
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