The 49ers’ rookie class figures to make a more pronounced appearance in the final two weeks of the season.
Offensive tackle Trent Brown, a seventh-round pick, played 34 snaps in Sunday’s 24-14 loss to the Bengals after right guard Marcus Martin left the game with a concussion on the first play of the fourth quarter.
How much Brown plays down the homestretch largely will rest on Martin’s condition, but the big rookie – at 6-foot-8 he’s tied with fellow linemen Alex Boone and Erik Pears as the tallest players on the roster – played well against the Bengals’ formidable defensive line even though there was little mystery that the 49ers, down 24-7 at the time, would pass on nearly every snap from that point on.
“I did good – I mean, no sacks,” Brown said after the game. “I feel like I could have been better, a little stronger in my protection on about two plays. But the quarterback was able to get the ball off in time.”
Brown’s only other appearance this season came when he played nine snaps at right tackle in a Week 9 win over the Falcons. But he said he felt he improved even since that Nov. 8 game.
“I really did,” he said. “I felt like things were moving a lot slower.”
Most observers agreed.
Pro Football Focus gave Brown a plus-2.4 grade from Sunday that included just one quarterback hurry. Pears, who started the game at right tackle but moved to right guard when Martin was injured, committed three holding penalties on the afternoon.
Asked if Brown and other young players will see more action before the season ends, 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said Brown “will probably be in the mix.”
“He’s gotten himself some reps,” Tomsula said. “He did a pretty good job. We’ve got to keep growing. He’s got to make sure – we’ve got to make sure – we’ve got everything clean in practice. And then with where Marcus is right now, we’ll have to see exactly how much that is.”
Another rookie, third-round pick Eli Harold, played most of the snaps at outside linebacker after starter Aaron Lynch missed his second consecutive game because of concussion symptoms. Harold finished with three tackles, a quarterback hit and a tackle for loss.
Tomsula said Harold (6-3, 247 pounds), who was considered undersized early on at Virginia, just needs to get bigger and stronger.
“I really like where he’s heading,” Tomsula said. “He’s another one of our young guys that we’re excited about. He’s a little small right now and not as strong as we want him to be. But he works at it, and when he strikes you, he strikes you with everything he’s got. He’s just got to pack on a little bit more muscle and more weight, and he’ll strike you with everything he puts on.”
There also could be different players at right cornerback.
Kenneth Acker started Sunday’s game as usual but played only nine snaps. One was the game’s longest play, a 47-yard reception by Bengals wideout Marvin Jones on which Acker had good coverage but failed to make a strong play on the ball.
Dontae Johnson mostly filled in on the team’s base defense, but Tomsula said he wanted to get more looks at Marcus Cromartie, as well.
“I think those guys are all very talented,” Tomsula said. “I think they earned the right to get the reps.”
Rookie snap counts*
Players listed by round drafted, with position, snaps this season
1. Arik Armstead, DL 309
2. Jaquiski Tartt, S 650
3. Eli Harold, OLB 284
4a. Blake Bell, TE 254
4b. Mike Davis, RB 98
4c. DeAndre Smelter, WR NFI
5. Bradley Pinion, P 171
6. Ian Silberman, G 0
7a. Trent Brown, T 43
7b. Rory Anderson, TE IR
* With their respective unit
NFI–Non-football injury; IR–Injured reserve