COMMENTARY | The San Francisco 49ers may indeed have the best offensive line in the entire National Football League. They have four Pro Bowl caliber players along that unit and a former Pro Bowler in Jonathan Goodwin at center.
That's where this article begins and ends.
As one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl this season, San Francisco doesn't necessarily have a ton of holes in its lineup. Some of the holes that it does have (wide receiver and defensive line) seems to be too thin to find a strong in-house candidate off the bench to replace a struggling starter.
Goodwin might have been one of the most consistently good centers in the league over the past five-plus years, but he has dropped off a great deal in 2013. The former Michigan standout and Pro Bowler for the New Orleans Saints has struggled in both pass protection and run blocking this season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Goodwin ranks 28th among centers with a negative overall grade. He's also allowed the fifth-most quarterback pressures from the center position this season and is the only 49ers' offensive linemen that has struggled against the run.
At 34 years old and with 98 career NFL starts under his belt, it's becoming increasingly obvious that Goodwin just doesn't have what it takes to be an above-average center on a championship contender. In order for San Francisco to continue the domination we have seen on the ground over the past three seasons, it is going to have to find an upgrade from Goodwin at center. It really is that simple.
San Francisco does have an internal option to replace Goodwin on the roster in the form of former fifth-round pick Daniel Kilgore, who took snaps with the first team in the preseason and is seen as the heir apparent to Goodwin. It remains to be seen whether San Francisco will replace Goodwin mid-season, but it's a move that has a chance to make its offensive line even better.
It's the idea that putting your top-five men on the field works better than just going with the veteran because he has the experience and has had previous success in the NFL. San Francisco made this decision when it replaced Adam Snyder with Alex Boone prior to the 2012 season and this move may end up paying off the same way in the long run.
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area had the following to say about Kilgore during training camp…
"Kilgore (6 foot 3, 300 pounds) enters his third NFL season with his sights set on earning a starting job on the 49ers' offensive line. With incumbent Jonathan Goodwin spending most of the offseason working out on his own in South Carolina, Kilgore lined up with the first-team offense through most of the offseason program.
And, again, Kilgore has found himself in the role as the No. 1 center while Goodwin has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury since the fifth practice of training camp. Goodwin will not suit up for Thursday's opener."
Kilgore took first-team reps throughout the majority of training camp and in the preseason. This gives him the comfort level to come in there after the bye week with additional practice and not struggle making the adjustments to a starting role. In addition, Kilgore has been on the field a vast majority of the time San Francisco has utilized an extra lineman in specific packages this season.
As the likely starter in 2014, it only makes sense that Kilgore gains some experience in a starting role before taking over full time. While that's fine and dandy for a rebuilding team, some may question the idea of him taking over in the middle of the season for a Super Bowl contender. My one response there is that he's likely an upgrade over Goodwin, so why not?
Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Niners Nation and was a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. His work has been published on CNN, Pro Football Focus and BR, among other sites.
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