49ers OL coach explains why the team didn't need to make a big investment to upgrade the line

Updated Jun. 6, 2024 3:17 p.m. ET

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The amount of talent on the San Francisco 49ers' offense can be staggering at times.

The Niners have five skilled position players who have been first- or second-team All-Pros the past three seasons, an MVP finalist in quarterback Brock Purdy and the best left tackle in football in All-Pro Trent Williams.

It's the other four spots on the offensive line that have the biggest questions, leading to speculation that San Francisco might have invested heavily in free agency or the draft to upgrade another spot on the line.

That didn't end up happening, with the Niners' biggest additions in free agency coming on the defensive line and their first-round pick being used on another wide receiver in Ricky Pearsall to team with stars Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.


Perhaps surprisingly, one person leading the charge to advocate for that approach is the man responsible for coaching the offensive line: Chris Foerster.

“This is my personal opinion, if they ask me, invest in guys that touch the ball, guys that can touch the ball and score touchdowns," Foerster said. “And then there’s a range of guys, second, third, fourth round, fifth round even, that we will find starting offensive linemen in. ... That guy that touches the ball, it makes a huge difference in the game. The right guard makes a difference, but that’s where we’re able to find fourth- and fifth-round draft picks.”

In the last six offseasons, the Niners have made a big investment in only one offensive lineman. They traded two mid-round picks to acquire Williams in 2020 and then rewarded him with a top-of-the-market contract worth about $138 million the following offseason.

The rest of the line is mostly filled with later picks and low-priced free agents, allowing the Niners to dedicate more resources to pass rushers on defense and playmakers on offense.

“Could you put five first-rounders across the front? I don’t know that we have to, to have success,” Foerster said. “It hasn’t been that case as far as running the football and protecting the quarterback. We don’t have five first-rounders, so there’s always going to be that. But, the fact that you can throw a short pass to Deebo, even though the right tackle’s getting beat, it ends up being a 60-yard touchdown. So yeah, the right tackle blocks somebody, but if the guy gets tackled at 5 yards, you don’t have the 60-yard touchdown. ‘Boy that right tackle did a great job.’ What’s it matter if the guy touching the ball can’t take it to the house?”

Foerster, who began coaching offensive line in the NFL in 1992, said he really came to adopt this stance on building an offensive line in the mid 2000s when he saw what the Patriots did with mostly average blockers and dynamic playmakers around Tom Brady.

Foerster said it's easier to scheme around blocking with chips, slides, double teams or quick releases than it is to scheme around receivers who can't get open.

But there are some limitations and he believes the group of linemen he has next to Williams is good enough, as evidenced by the success San Francisco has had on offense in recent years.

"There’s a line below that with offensive line play that if you just drop a little bit below it, it’s a gaping hole,” Foerster said. “All of a sudden, you’re like, ‘He can’t block anybody.’ And now we got a major problem. But as long as they’re at that line and just above it, you can survive it.”

Play on the line did prove costly in the Super Bowl loss in February against the Chiefs. San Francisco failed to pick up a third-down blitz late in regulation that allowed the Chiefs enough time to drive for a game-tying score and then had a blown assignment in the red zone in overtime that led to a field goal instead of a TD, contributing to the 25-22 loss.

San Francisco's biggest investment in the line this offseason came with a potential new starter at right guard when the 49ers drafted Dominick Puni in the third round after passing on potential tackles in rounds one and two.

“We looked at numerous guys throughout the process. I think when you’re drafting 31st, it’s oftentimes hard to find a tackle that you really love,” general manager John Lynch said after the draft. “And we like our tackles as they stand right now.”


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