San Francisco 49ers

A new hope: Staley sees positive signs for embattled 49ers offensive line

Trent Brown, left, of the 49ers works against Detroit’s Gabe Wright.
Trent Brown, left, of the 49ers works against Detroit’s Gabe Wright. The Associated Press

The 49ers are close to setting a franchise record in sacks allowed, and they haven’t had a rusher reach the 100-yard mark since Week 1.

They’ve struggled to score points throughout the season, and the team that gains the fewest yards Sunday – 49ers or the Rams – likely will finish with the NFL’s lowest yardage output.

“I don’t think you ever expect a season like this,” left tackle Joe Staley, one of the 49ers’ team captains, said in the run-up to the game. “We knew it was going to be a challenging year. And we knew we didn’t have everybody coming back like we had in years’ past – the same coordinators, the same players. It was going to be a challenge, regardless. We knew that coming in. But we didn’t expect the kind of year we had this year.”

Since the beginning of the season, much of the blame has been heaped onto the offensive line. Earlier this year, for instance, the 49ers tied a franchise mark by allowing nine sacks in one game. With four more Sunday, they will have given up a franchise-worst 56 for the season.

Staley, however, said he sees good things for the future.

Three young players – tackle Trent Brown, guard Andrew Tiller and center Daniel Kilgore – were in the starting lineup together for the first time last week against the Lions and are likely to start again Sunday.

1Number of times the 49ers have had a 100-yard rusher this season

Tiller, who has played both guard spots this season, had been on several teams’ practice squads – including the 49ers’ – since entering the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick in 2012. Kilgore, meanwhile, spent more than a year recovering from a fractured ankle before returning to the starting lineup last month.

Brown in particular could affect the team’s offseason strategy. He was a late seventh-round pick in May, someone who nearly fell out of the draft altogether.

But he has been improving throughout the season, and at 6-foot-8 and about 350 pounds, he certainly has the physical traits for the position. He held up nicely when he entered the 49ers’ Week 15 game in the second half and faced 6-6, 280-pound Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap. And he mostly fared well against Detroit.

He’s just night and day from where he was.

Joe Staley, on teammate Trent Brown

“He’s just night and day from where he was,” Staley said of Brown. “He has so much potential. He’s one of the most talented guys I’ve seen come in. This offseason is going to be really big for him.”

Brown’s first start wasn’t perfect. Like most young linemen, he had trouble picking up stunts by the Lions’ defensive linemen. And his conditioning – something that sunk his draft stock – also was an issue in the second half.

“Like a lot of guys, you get a little tired, you get a little fatigued, the concentration, the 60-minute game is such that you can see Trent start to lose some wind in his sails a little bit,” offensive coordinator Geep Chryst said.

Staley said he’d monitor Brown and the team’s other young linemen during the offseason. He said he’ll spend the next few months in San Diego, and Brown and the others are welcome to work out with him. He also said left guard Alex Boone, who is scheduled to be a free agent in March, trains in Arizona and that a group of players may join him there.

“We’ll be keeping tabs on each other to make sure we’re doing things right,” Staley said.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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