Rhythm of O-line fractured again

Should the 49ers just lock up Jeremy Newberry right now and throw away the key until Sept. 5? They spent all of training camp protecting their Pro Bowl center and his calf injury, and then look what happens. Now that the Niners are back in business at their Santa Clara headquarters, Newberry fractures a finger on his snapping hand after only a few days of practice. He says it will be easy snapping with his left hand for the "first two or three games" of the season. Take it from us: It won't be.

Since partially tearing his calf on July 23, Newberry had targeted Saturday's exhibition game against the Oakland Raiders as the time to start mixing it up again with the enemy. Now, after having two pins placed in the finger, he obviously won't play against the Raiders. Newberry vows to return for the preseason finale Wednesday against San Diego, but let's face it: He shouldn't. And if he doesn't, the Niners' starting center will not have played one snap in the team's five preseason games.

Newberry will have a special cast designed and placed on his right hand to protect the finger, and we all know that linemen can play - and play well - without much restriction wearing casts. But the center position is the exception. Centers can't snap with casted hands, so Newberry - who is right-handed - will be switching the ball to his left hand until his finger heals.

Let's hope for the best.

"I've snapped that way before," Newberry said Thursday. "It doesn't make much difference to me. I snapped that way this morning with my left hand and it wasn't a problem."

But it is a problem. Think of being right-handed, then being forced to write left-handed. You can do it, but the writing comes out a little scribbley. Or a lot scribbley.

Let's just hope the ball doesn't start coming out when Newberry and quarterback Jeff Garcia start doing this for real in the season opener against the Giants, which is now just two short weeks away.

Obviously, snapping isn't writing, and Newberry will have time to get it down before the season starts. He was able to get by snapping left-handed for six games during his sophomore season at Cal when his right hand was in a cast. He knows the routine. He's a good enough player and athlete that he should able to work out the kinks by September.

But that offensive line we've been talking about all summer never will get that chance. Maybe Newberry and All-Pro guard Ron Stone finally will get a chance to play together in a game - before the season starts - in next week's preseason finale. Maybe they won't. But anybody who says the Niners' line is going to hit the season as a cohesive unit - and if you listen closely, you can still hear the Niners softly cooing this - is fooling themselves.

Just be glad the Niners finally got smart and brought in Ben Lynch a couple of weeks ago. He'll be your 49ers starting center Saturday night - with just 12 precious days to go before the real games begin.


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