Notes: The New-Look Offensive Line

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Pat Shurmur didn’t want to reveal who would be starting at left guard and right tackle this week in place of the injured Evan Mathis and Allen Barbre, but the early portion of practice Wednesday seemed to paint the picture.

Dennis Kelly was working at left guard with the first unit and Andrew Gardner was at right tackle.

“I think we’re better here than in most places I’ve been because we get so many reps in practice, in our training sessions, that the guys that are going to fill in — just like the guys that did on Sunday — have a better opportunity to do so,” said Shurmur. “Everybody deals with it. It’s rare when you have to put two new guys in a game, we’ve all dealt with having to put in one, but the guys that went in did a great job and I think it’s a function of our culture and our practice that they were able to do it so well.”

Barbre was placed on injured reserve and Mathis (knee) short-term IR this week.

Matt Tobin (ankle) could eventually make his way into the starting lineup but he was sidelined at practice Wednesday. So too was Josh Huff (shoulder).

The McCoy/Sproles Dynamic

Darren Sproles had 85 yards and a touchdown on 15 touches against the Jaguars while LeSean McCoy totaled 115 yards on 27 touches. Is that about the split we should expect moving forward?

“We don’t feel like it’s all that uncommon because we’re going to play Darren at a running back spot so we’re going to call our offense regardless of whether Darren or LeSean is in there,” said Shurmur. “We like to run the football so whoever the back is in there, you’re going to get a chance to touch the ball and you’re going to get it handed to you. And then we’ll always have ways to throw them the football.

“I can’t tell you it’s going to be exactly even each week. It looks good, and I guess we’ll take credit for the design of it, but both guys went in there and did a good job with their touches.”

Whenever the opportunity has presented itself, Chip Kelly has made it a point to stress the fact that Sproles is viewed as a running back and not just a pass-catcher by this coaching staff. The fact that he received 11 of the team’s 32 carries in the opener helped support that notion.

 Praise For Graham 

Brandon Graham was on the field for 36 percent of the defensive plays Sunday, per Pro Football Focus. Aside from the blowout win over Chicago late last season, that’s the highest percentage of snaps he has seen under Billy Davis.

What was particularly interesting is that Graham filled in not just for Trent Cole at the “Predator” position, but also for Connor Barwin at “Jack,” where the linebacker is asked to be a “Jack of all trades.”

“Brandon, after a year in the system, this whole offseason he’s practiced at both,” said Billy Davis. “He had a nice game, he went in there and filled in real nice in both spots so we were happy with Brandon.”

Graham had four tackles and two tackles for a loss in the win over Jacksonville. He rushed the passer 11 times and dropped seven times, according to PFF.

“He’s a good option. It’s having three solid players there. You want to just make sure that any of the three that are in there can play and roll and that they’re going to produce…We’re very pleased with Brandon. He had a solid game, he really did,” said Davis.

Marcus Smith, meanwhile, dressed but did not see the field. How close is he to gaining a role?

“He’s close,” Davis said. “We’ll continue the progress and when an opportunity presents itself to get him in there, we will and we’ll grow him. In that game we dug an early hole and Brandon was going in there and making a difference and so was Trent and Connor. We had good production out of the outside ‘backer group and like most young guys, it’s not easy breaking into an NFL starting lineup. You have to go through some very savvy vets that are holding onto those spots. Marcus is going to be challenged because he has a good group in front of him. Nothing against Marcus.”