The 49ers’ solution to having two players capable of starting at right tackle may be to move one of them to right guard.
That’s where Anthony Davis, whose 71 NFL starts since 2010 have been at tackle, found himself for eight plays during Thursday’s scrimmage with the Broncos. It was the first time Davis played with the first-team offensive line – he was lined up next to right tackle Trent Brown – this summer and the first time he played guard since his freshman year at Rutgers.
Davis, 26, sat out the 2015 season because of health concerns and also skipped the 49ers’ spring sessions. Before returning, he made several unflattering comments about teammates and the 49ers’ front office on social media, behaving nothing like a team player.
But Davis said lining up at guard, a position that receives far less fanfare than tackle, was his idea and that he told position coach Pat Flaherty he is willing to move there.
“I’m an athlete,” Davis said. “I can play right tackle. I can play anywhere along the line. We want the best five (linemen) on the field, and Trent is not going to play guard. He’s a giant man. And I feel like I could adapt to guard.”
Davis played only a handful of snaps at guard Thursday – usually on the first two plays of the team portions of practice – giving way to Andrew Tiller for the remainder of the session. Tiller started seven games at guard last year and has been with the first-string unit since training camp began.
Davis’ tryout at guard said two things about the 49ers: Their depth and talent along the offensive line is far better than it was a year ago – when it was a team weakness – and that Brown will be tough to replace at right tackle.
The 6-foot-8, 355-pound Brown, the biggest player on the 49ers’ roster, started the final two games of 2015 and received high marks for his performance.
Center Daniel Kilgore helped Davis adjust to the unfamiliar position during the 49ers’ continued joint practice sessions with Denver. Kilgore said Davis has the athleticism to make the switch to guard but cautioned that the 49ers still are in experimentation mode when it comes to their offensive line: “We’re just trying to get a feel for where guys can play.”
Another lineman who had been longtime tackle, Alex Boone, moved to right guard right before the 2012 season. He has started 65 games at guard since. Boone became a free agent during the offseason and signed a lucrative contract to play guard for the Vikings.
During his transition, Boone described guard as a “full-day street fight.” Kilgore said Davis has the requisite ferocity for the position.
“Who would you rather have?” he said. “Alex made a great transition from tackle to guard, and if it did so happen that they try to do that with Anthony, I’m sure he’ll have the same experience Alex had. He’s going to do well with anything, anywhere he plays.”
Zane Beadles has worked at left guard with the first-string unit throughout the spring and training camp. First-round draft pick Joshua Garnett has been lining up at left guard with the second-team unit.
On Monday, coach Chip Kelly was asked about the possibility of Davis playing guard. He said the team hadn’t “had any discussions about that right now” and that the 49ers still were eying him as a tackle. But he noted that Davis’ light feet give him versatility.
“I think Anthony can play anywhere on an offensive line,” Kelly said. “Whether it be right tackle, left tackle, center, left guard, right guard, I think when you’ve got someone 6-5, 330 pounds that moves like he moves, I think you could play him any position along the offensive line.”