49ers’ Joe Looney takes on key offensive line role
A little-known offensive lineman with less than one full game of
NFL experience could find himself starting for San Francisco in its
biggest game of the year yet.
Every Sunday, Joe Looney goes through his own pregame practice
on the Candlestick Park field well before his 49ers teammates on
the active roster do it for real. Such is life on the practice
squad, or development squad as it is called around here.
Forced into his first regular action at right guard early in
Sunday’s 23-13 victory against St. Louis when left tackle Joe
Staley went down and Alex Boone shifted to replace him, Looney
impressed his teammates and coaches with how quickly he settled
into his position.
”It’s helping the team out any way I can,” Looney said. ”I
know those guys are relying on me and I’m relying on the guys. It’s
a team game. You just always have to be ready. It (stinks) to see
Joe Staley go down, a Pro Bowler.”
Looney began this week working at right guard with the
first-team offense given that Staley’s status for Sunday’s game
against Seattle (11-1) remains unclear as he nurses a right knee
Coach Jim Harbaugh said Wednesday he wouldn’t rule out Staley or
left guard Mike Iupati, who has missed the past two games with a
sprained left knee. Neither practiced Wednesday.
So, just who is Joe Looney? Many around the league might be
asking that very question this week – and it’s an obvious one.
Especially considering Looney only made his NFL debut for three
plays in the waning moments of the 49ers’ Nov. 25 Monday night win
at Washington before being called upon in a much more important
Staley went down at the 11:13 mark of the first quarter against
the Rams and didn’t return.
”Joe (Looney) did an amazing job to come in, perform the way he
did,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said Wednesday. ”He pretty
much locked their front down the whole game. So, hats off to
In fact, several of Looney’s teammates have credited him for
carrying himself in a way that made it tough to tell he had never
done this before at the NFL level. That’s what center Jonathan
Goodwin shared with offensive line coach Mike Solari.
”You never really know what to expect with a guy who hasn’t
played,” Goodwin said. ”One thing about him, he works hard and
he’s a student of the game. The one thing I told Coach Solari that
I felt from the moment he came in the game Sunday was you got a
confident vibe from him. His first real action for him to be in
that position and for him to come in and be that way that says a
lot about him.”
The 49ers selected the 23-year-old Looney in the fourth round of
the 2012 draft out of Wake Forest. Little did they know he would
break into a veteran, close-knit offensive line in December with a
playoff berth at stake as an emergency fill-in.
Looney and the other young O-linemen who aren’t usually on the
game-day 53-man roster are among the first on the field to go
through their own routine to stay ready.
”He’s on it. He prepares very diligently,” offensive
coordinator Greg Roman said. ”He’s a very professional,
intelligent young man. Love his aggressiveness, too. He went after
people, which is what we like. Without question he played really
well. He was just genuinely excited to be out there and have an
opportunity to play, and it showed in his performance. We had
confidence in him, but it’s his first time out there doing it and
he stepped up big. We’re very pleased.”
Enough so that he could get another shot Sunday against the NFC
West-leading Seahawks, who already clinched their playoff berth and
could capture the division crown with a road win at San
That is still to be determined. Harbaugh is never one to offer
his opponent any kind of lead time, and especially not Pete Carroll
and the archrival Seahawks.
Whatever happens, Looney earned the respect of his
”He just did a great job throughout the whole game,” fullback
Bruce Miller said. ”There was no fall off, no drop off with Joe
(Staley) leaving. I’m really impressed with the way he handled
himself. He’s confident, and very humble in his approach. He
prepares like a starter, so when he goes in there, he’s a
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