There weren’t many doubts heading into 2023, but 49ers offensive line coach and run game coordinator Chris Foerster has provided some clarity about some roles on the team’s offensive line for the year. While the left side of the line from center over was solid last year, with left tackle Trent Williams grading out as the league’s top tackle, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the right side of the line was viewed as a bit more up in the air.
The biggest question facing the offensive line was who would replace departing starting right tackle Mike McGlinchey, who signed with the Broncos in free agency back in March. Foerster confirmed that the team intends to utilize fourth-year tackle Colton McKivitz in the starting lineup to begin the season, according to Nick Wagoner of ESPN. The former fifth-round pick out of West Virginia has been asked to step up a few times, starting five games over his young career. It’s been a long road to become a starter as McKivitz spent the majority of his sophomore season on the practice squad and dealt with a high ankle sprain that landed him on injured reserve for four games last year.
San Francisco doesn’t have a ton of options behind McKivitz. Jaylon Moore has competed with McKivitz in the last few years for a backup role, starting five games over the last two seasons, and the team brought in Matt Pryor for depth in free agency. Pryor was also considered a possible replacement for McGlinchey as he has the most starting experience of the three, but he will instead be providing some experienced depth off the bench with starts under his belt at both tackle and guard.
Another question lingered on the right side after Spencer Burford showed room for improvement as a rookie starter last year. The 49ers asked a lot of their fourth-round selection, cementing him in that starting role fairly early into his tenure with the team. Of 77 guards graded last year by PFF, Burford’s rookie season ranked him 67th in the group. Despite the team bringing in some possible competition, Foerster confirmed that Burford should be returning to his starting role from last year.
The options behind Burford are much better than behind McKivitz. As mentioned above, Pryor comes in with starting experience at guard as well as tackle. The team added another veteran with diverse experience in Jon Feliciano. Feliciano started games at both guard spots over his time with the Raiders and Bills before spending last season as the Giants’ starting center. He provides San Francisco with a strong option as a backup center, but a recent report claimed that the team intends to use Feliciano back in his natural guard role. It appears he may be the 49ers’ top backup option for any of the interior roles.
San Francisco also has second-year guard Nick Zakelj, but Foerster wants Zakelj to give Feliciano a run for the No.2 center job behind starter Jake Brendel, according to Wagoner. Foerster says that they’d like Zakelj, who appeared in five games as a rookie last year in minimal work, to be able to provide depth at all three interior positions.
Hence, Foerster has provided us a strong portrait of the depth chart for San Francisco’s offensive line. A starting lineup that includes (from left to right) Williams, Aaron Banks, Brendel, Burford, and McKivitz will have strong competition and replacement options in Pryor, Feliciano, and Zakelj. With some of the best players in the country at running back, wide receiver, and tight end, and several strong options at quarterback, Foerster is doing his best to make sure the offensive line is not a weak spot on the 49ers offense.