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Midseason Grades: Offensive Line

Sorry for the tardiness. Fess up time: I was out looking for a job. Anywho, I'm pushing the stat breakdown until...tomorrow? Monday? We'll see. It's not a terribly interesting comparison, as you might guess, because the 49ers are basically awful in every phase of the game (minus punting). We're halfway through the season and it makes sense to hand out some midseason grades. Yes, it's formulaic, but functional and allows me to talk about some of the players that get skipped in all the hullabaloo over Shaun Alexander. Today, we'll look at the offensive line. Tomorrow, we'll tackle the skill position players and hopefully the defensive front seven. Thanks for the patience.

Walter Jones B: Jones had a rough start. Since shaking off the rust, though, he's given the Hawks a capable, well-rounded left tackle. He's not able to sustain his block's like he once was, he no longer regularly blows defensive linemen up, but he gets to where he's needed and does what's asked of him. If Jones can contribute at this level for a couple more seasons, the Hawks will stay contenders. If, when, he drops off, the Hawks enter a rebuilding phase.

Rob Sims A-: Sims has been the Hawks' best lineman, a rock in pass pro and a developing force in the rushing attack. If he can learn to square his blocks on pulls, he'll make an excellent right guard next season, easily among the league's best. Sims has good feet, and perhaps most importantly, the strength to stifle a defender even after only a glancing hit. Yes, I said right guard. Sims isn't terrifically athletic. Sims is not at his peak, nor is he terribly far from it. I would expect him to improve incrementally for the remainder of the season, improving his run blocking technique, and become the sort of steady guard that's so good he's hardly noticed.

Chris Spencer C-: Spencer is a former first round pick, a pick I never supported. When you draft a center in the first you expect him to be elite, Spencer is tenuously holding onto below average. Spencer is toolsy as all hell. He's much stronger, more athletic and more explosive than an average center, but he gets high in his blocks, meaning his explosiveness doesn't turn into dominance. More troubling is his awful footwork. A center must be a versatile, agile pass blocker, as many times as not they must disengage one man to pick up another - say a blitzing linebacker. For all Spencer's mobility, he trips often enough to be a liability. Further, his development as a pulling blocker has not only not improved, but regressed. Spencer didn't get a lot of snaps in college and fewer still as a center. He could breakout, wake up one day and be among the league's best. As is, he's a bust.

Chris Gray C+: Gray isn't much of a guard anymore. He doesn't get great push and relies almost entirely on technique to be effective. Still, Gray is effective, he's cheap and consistent if unspectacular. Giving him an extended halftime might be sensible (that is, sub him out on the final drive of the half and first drive of the subsequent half) because Gray goes from solid, to serviceable to downright awful when he gets tired. Not a great player, but playing well above what could have been expected. There is a ton of room for decline here.

Sean Locklear B: Lock's play has dipped in the last few weeks, an especially disappointing development after a really impressive preseason. Lock is steady in pass pro, especially against the edge rush, but with Beck spending more and more time in the pocket, Lock loses blocks. He's not a dominant blocker, but an athletic blocker - a position or finesse blocker. Against a sustained bullrush, eventually, he crumbles. Therefore larger ends, especially the hybrid end/tackles that comprise a 3-4, wear him down. It's really hard to evaluate his run blocking because Alexander is no longer a viable outside rusher. Lock, along with Gray, Spencer and Jones, would not benefit from a pass primary offense.