Left side now belongs to Snyder

Adam Snyder still talks like a rookie, but he sure isn't playing like it now that he has taken over at left tackle for the 49ers. And when we say taken over, we mean it in every sense of the phrase.

Snyder gave the 49ers the best game they've gotten from their left-side offensive tackle this season in his NFL debut at the position last week. Snyder put the clamps on Seattle rush end Grant Wistrom and kept him off quarterback Ken Dorsey, giving Dorsey time to throw and the 49ers an opportunity to produce some spark in their floundering offense during a near-miss 27-25 loss to NFC frontrunner Seattle.

But instead of talking about his fine effort, Snyder – like the rookie he is – gave deference to the men who have played the position for San Francisco before him this season.

"We have Jonas Jennings, and he's probably the best left tackle I've ever seen," Snyder gushed. "We had Anthony Clement come in and do a great job for us."

Actually, Jennings was just starting to get into the flow and earn his money – he cashed in on a seven-year, $36 million free-agent payday when he signed with the Niners in March – before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during a Week 3 loss to Dallas.

And Clement, the veteran who was signed in September after Jennings was hurt and immediately replaced him in the lineup, mostly struggled protecting the blind side of San Francisco quarterbacks in the next six games.

Enter Snyder, who had made his first NFL start the previous week at right guard against the Chicago Bears. It took only one impressive outing at left tackle against the Seahawks to make the position his for the remainder of the season.

"Adam Snyder is our left tackle," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He was the man out there. He did a hell of a job and was very sure of himself. Left tackle is like playing cornerback on defense. If you're not strong-minded, you can get it handed to you pretty quick."

That's what has been happening to San Francisco's young and injury-plagued offensive line most of the season. The 49ers enter Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans ranked 30th in the NFL in sacks allowed per play, and their offense ranks 31st or worse in seven other categories.

But things got better against the Seahawks with Snyder keeping Seattle pass rushers off Dorsey, who threw for a career-high 249 yards. The 49ers produced 336 yards of offense and scored their first touchdowns in four games. San Francisco had averaged 174.3 yards and 10.7 points over its previous six games.

Snyder did a wonderful job against Wistrom, who had no sacks, few pressures on Dorsey and finished with just four tackles. Afterward, Wistrom approached the rookie and told him he'd done a good job and to keep it up, then praised Snyder's effort later to reporters.

"That meant a lot," Snyder said. "I got my mind right early in the week that I was going to have to go in for 60 minutes. (Wistrom)'s a respected defensive lineman in the league who's been around for a while. He plays with high intensity. My goal was to just match his intensity and physical toughness. I feel like I did a pretty good job of it. I'm going to use that as fuel to keep going and getting better."

If last week's game was any indication, as Snyder gets better, so will San Francisco's offense. It was a tremendous performance at one of the game's most pivotal – and difficult to play – positions, particularly considering Snyder had played right guard since training camp began in July.

But the switch to tackle was natural for him. Snyder started at left tackle the past three seasons at the University of Oregon, where he won the Morris Trophy last year as the Pac-10 Conference's top offensive lineman.

"I played left tackle in college for five years," Snyder said. "So I was comfortable in that position last week, comfortable in the game plan, and I knew exactly what I was supposed to do and when I was supposed to do it. I think that helped my confidence a lot in that game."

The 49ers traded up in the April draft to select Snyder in the third round with the intention of making him their top backup at both tackle and guard. But injuries along the line put him in the starting lineup at right guard at the beginning of training camp.

When two-time Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry returned from a knee injury in September, Snyder was bumped from the starting lineup before the regular-season opener. He played sparingly in San Francisco's first eight games as Eric Heitmann, Newberry's summer replacement, shifted back to right guard.

But when Newberry needed a week off to rest shoulder and knee injuries Nov. 13 at Chicago, Snyder was back in as the starter at right guard. He shifted to left tackle when Newberry returned to the lineup last week, and the 49ers still are raving about his performance.

"You can tell when a guy is very confident in what he's got to do," Nolan said. "Adam was blocking the whole game. He was punching people, then he would just sit right there and not chase them. Sometimes, young guys will get hungry and chase somebody. I just really like the way he carried himself. He certainly showed that he can play the position."

Snyder already appears to be carving his niche in San Francisco's line of the future. Even when Jennings returns next season, Snyder may be a solution at one of the team's tackle positions, where the 49ers have had considerable problems the past two years.

He also may have a future at guard. But Snyder won't be thinking much about that position the rest of this season.

"You never know what is going to happen," Snyder said. "Just because they say something doesn't mean it's etched in stone. I don't think their intent is to keep me at (left tackle). But I'm going to go out and do my best every day and try to get better and help this team win a few games the rest of the way."

And about his position of the future? Has Snyder already settled into it?

"They told me we'll deal with next year next year," he said. "For now, I'm going to be playing tackle."

And – if his first NFL game at the position was any indication – playing it very well.


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