The San Francisco 49ers are gearing up to make a serious run in 2012.
On paper, the 49ers are stacked across the board. They have great leadership on and off the field.
This is a defense capable of being the No. 1 overall unit, with top-tier players at every level of its infrastructure. The offense has been refreshed with talent, speed and experience as they look to become established in 2012.
And amidst all of this talent, the one potential position the Niners may have overlooked is the starting right guard.
It goes without saying that the offensive line is crucial to any team's success throughout the season. After Adam Snyder departed in the offseason to the NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers did not feel their hand was pushed enough to make a significant move.
Once free agency opened, the 49ers were not aggressive in pursuing offensive linemen. They conducted a couple interviews, but eventually went into the draft without making any signings at the position.
San Francisco waited until the fourth round to select interior line prospect, Joe Looney. And with their second choice in the sixth round, the 49ers selected Jason Slowey.
It became clear that the 49ers were committed to converting former tackle Alex Boone to the starting right guard position.
Play No. 1
On 3rd-and-7 in the first quarter, Alex Smith dropped back to pass with hopes to convert the first down.
The back hung in to block while Smith had four receivers running routes trying to get open. The Houston Texans rushed five and dropped six. At this point, the play was still developing.
Center Jonathan Goodwin and guard Alex Boone double-teamed the defensive tackle. Between the entire offensive line, they were blocking four defenders, not including the delayed blitz by No. 96.
Smith felt pressure coming from his blindside and decided to step up.
To the right of the frame, you can see Smith had two receivers heading in opposite directions crossing underneath but he could not rightfully throw across his body at that moment.
The protection started to break down after Boone tried to adjust to the free rusher, but failed to pick him up. Boone couldn't slide to the right quick enough in order to pick up his man, ultimately displaying his lack of awareness by not identifying the rusher earlier.
Had Boone been able to make the adjustment, it could have bought Smith a couple more seconds to find his underneath receiver who was almost in position to bail him out.
As Smith stepped up to scramble, the pocket collapsed around him and he was wrapped up by the defense. During the confusion and failure to adjust by Boone, the play was officially killed by the Texans front seven.
Play No. 2
On a 1st-and-10, San Francisco decided to go to the air. The 49ers had their five offensive linemen blocking, allowing for five receiving options, including both backs (RB Hunter and FB Miller).
The Texans rushed four and dropped seven, upon which every offensive lineman was engaged with a defender except Boone.
After the snap, Boone found himself with his back toward the play, looking confused about who to block. Granted, his assignment could have been geared toward supporting whoever was in need, but he looked indecisive nonetheless. And for the second time that day, the Niners were blocking with only four protectors.
The play was still alive at this point, and Smith appeared to have a clean pocket to throw from.
In this shot, we can see the protection has broken down entirely, leaving Smith to scramble for safety.
We can also see that Boone has completely removed himself from the play after attempting to help Anthony Davis with Connor Barwin. Boone did not chip anyone and was pretty inactive during the play in terms of contact.
Goodwin was the one who probably could have used help the most. Davis had Barwin until Smith changed his position, exposing himself to the defender.
Before long, Barwin has Smith wrapped up.
This is not an anti-Boone campaign by any means, but simply illustrating some legitimate concerns in detail. These are all corrections that can be made by Week 1 and Boone may very possibly have a solid year.
And honestly, it's good these slip-ups are happening now instead of during the season. Alex Boone is a smart, hardworking player who should get this thing right in the next couple of weeks. His role in the position has been virtually unchallenged, even by a veteran like Leonard Davis who was recently signed by the team.
Boone seems to be doing the majority of things the right way, but a there are a few details here and there that could use some attention. He needs more reps with the offensive line, and in due time, they will band together.