“Got high on a few plays.”
That was 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh’s note on Joe Looney’s exhibition debut at right guard. Looney played 24 snaps Thursday in Baltimore, the most memorable coming on a third-and-short run near the Ravens’ goal line when he could not contain nose tackle Brandon Williams, who spun free of Looney’s block and tackled tailback Jewel Hampton for a 1-yard loss.
Looney appeared to come out of his stance too soon and lose his balance.
“Yeah, it’s something I need to work on,” Looney said. “Coaches have told me what I need to work on, and I’m going to continue to get better at it.”
That’s the advantage of three joint practices the 49ers are having with the Ravens. Not only does Looney get a chance to work on his weaknesses, he has an opportunity to do so against the player who exposed them. Williams is a squat 6-1, 335 pounds and any offensive lineman that faces him must stay low to the ground to maintain leverage.
“Williams and (Ravens defensive lineman Haloti) Ngata can play as low as it gets,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “Two very good defensive tackles and a lot to be learned there.”
Looney’s learning curve comes as teammate Alex Boone’s training-camp holdout enters its third week. Boone has been the 49ers’ starter at right guard the past two seasons as well as their top backup at tackle.
Other teams are poised to begin inquiring about a trade should the impasse drag on. Most offenses could stand to add a starter-caliber player at either at guard or tackle. Some – like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants – could use both.
How the 49ers proceed with Boone’s holdout ultimately depends on Looney’s progress and on how well newcomer Jonathan Martin performs. Martin, whom the 49ers acquired in March in a trade with the Miami Dolphins, has been filling in for injured Anthony Davis at right tackle and, as long as Boone is absent, he is the team’s best option to be the backup tackle this season.
Martin sat out much of the spring practices while dealing with mononucleosis, and he said he’s been catching up both from a strength standpoint – he lost 10 pounds during his bout – and because he simply hasn’t has as many repetitions as his teammates.
“I think losing that time set him back,” Roman said. “But he’s gutting it out, working hard. Probably not quite there, but getting there.”
Martin said he had a “pretty good outing” against the Ravens on Thursday. He played both right tackle with the first-team offensive line and left tackle with the second-string unit. He had a false-start penalty but did not give up any sacks or pressures.
As has Looney, he’s gotten a chance to improve his skills against Baltimore’s defenders. In his case, his opponents are disparate: On one play, Martin will block 6-7, 317-pound defensive end Chris Canty. On the next, he’ll deal with speedy linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who stands 5-11.
“They have Pro Bowlers, power guys, speed guys,” Martin said. “Just a lot of different bodies to help you hone your technique and do better and better.”
Martin has shown quick feet and has fared better against smaller speed rushers. He’s struggled at times against bulkier defenders, such as 49ers defensive ends Quinton Dial 6-5, 318-pounds) and Tony Jerod-Eddie (6-5, 301).
But as his strength has returned, so has his performance.
“I do like being in space,” Martin said. “I think it’s something I’m better at. But at the same time, I’ve been working hard at getting my pad level down so I can block the power rushers better.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.