SANTA CLARA, Calif. - All of a sudden, there's a vacuum of playing time available along the San Francisco 49ers' offensive line.
First, the loss of free agent left guard Mike Iupati in March left an opening at left guard. Then, Friday, formidable right tackle Anthony Davis announced his retirement from the 49ers, leaving 40 percent of the starting spots along the offensive front up for competition.
"Obviously, you look at the things we’ve done here personnel wise and we’re very prepared for this,” 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said after Friday's voluntary practice.
One of those options is rookie seventh-round pick Trent Brown (6-8, 355), who went from being unsure if he would get drafted last month, to facing the possibility of earning a starting job in the NFL.
But there's a long way to go for Brown, the former Florida Gator, including the continuous re-shaping of his body and learning the nuances of playing at the sport's highest level.
“He's 6'8". He's 350 pounds. He runs a 5.23. He has 36-inch arms. There's something to work (with) there," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said after last month's draft.
"It's a big piece of clay right now. We got some work to do."
Brown's draft stock fell initially because of fears surrounding his weight and conditioning habits. He showed up to the Senior Bowl weighing 387 pounds, scaring some teams away completely.
But at the scouting combine just three weeks later, Brown trimmed down to 355. His long arms and nimble feet made him an intriguing prospect to the 49ers, who needed depth at tackle after releasing Jonathan Martin following his disappointing 2014.
"When I was younger, I was actually a skill player," Brown said Friday. "I started off playing running back, played a little quarterback, receiver, linebacker. And then in basketball, I played guard too. It wasn’t really a big thing. I’m able to move well in space. I’m a big guy, but that was one of my attributes."
If the 49ers move toward a zone blocking scheme, as new offensive line coach Chris Foerster ran at his last stop with Washington, they would need quickness and foot speed from their linemen, which Brown apparently has. His style is different from Davis, who exemplified a true power blocker at right tackle.
The 49ers have two other viable options to replace Davis in veteran free-agent pickup Erik Pears, who signed a two-year, $4.7 million deal this spring, and right guard Alex Boone, who has a background at tackle from his collegiate days at Ohio State. Brandon Thomas, a favorite to earn the left guard spot vacated by Iupati, also has tackle experience.
Pears was not at Friday's practice, one of three voluntary sessions open to the media, because he is expecting child in the coming days.
Pears, who turns 33 later this month, was Pro Football Focus' 76th-ranked guard (out of 78) last season with Buffalo, according to the site's grading system. The year prior, he started all 16 games for the Bills at right tackle, allowing four sacks, before finishing 56th overall in PFF's tackle rankings.
With Boone avoiding the team's voluntary session, Pears has gotten most of the first-team reps in practice at right guard alongside Brown, who has been working with the first team at right tackle.
"I’ve been learning from him and Joe (Staley) for the most part, and Marcus Martin," Brown said. "We just talked, just calming down between plays and not having to be so uptight...Because I know what’s going on, but at the same time, I got to calm myself down, and he helps a lot with that."
Defensive lineman Quinton Dial offered his quick scouting report of Brown, having gone against him in practice, despite the pads being off so far this spring.
"He's got pretty good feet for a big guy," Dial said. "He’s got initial quickness, good lateral quickness. I think he’ll be alright. We get to see what he’s talking about when we put the pads on."