By: Chris Sanchez (@Chucky__Sanchez)
Final Edit: (@Zachhernan)
(While Zuttah was traded for and not signed as a free agent, we’ll still throw him in with the other 2017 additions.)
For the last few seasons, the center position has been hit and miss (mostly miss) for the San Francisco 49ers. After Jonathan Goodwin was allowed to depart following the 2013 season, it has been mostly a combination of Daniel Kilgore (when healthy), or -gulp- Marcus Martin. Kilgore, if available, provides a solid option as a signal caller for the offensive line. Problem is, he rarely stays healthy. He has has suffered from injury after injury, rendering him a mostly unreliable piece in what has been a shaky offensive line since Jim Harbaugh left Santa Clara. And Marcus Martin, well, was Marcus Martin. Enough said. Aside from that, neither of the aforementioned guys had any experience playing in a zone blocking system.
The zone-blocking scheme was made famous by Kyle Shanahan’s father Mike in Denver and further perpetuated by protégé Gary Kubiak first in Houston, then Baltimore, and again in Denver. This blocking system allows for “stretch” running plays. As the name entails, this blocking scheme is designed to stretch the defense to the right, allowing blocks and running lanes to develop. This system has been wildly successful, mainly in Denver, where it enabled Mike Shanahan to win two Super Bowls and then Kubiak to win one of his own. Further, it has produced perennial playoff-contending offenses with the Texans, Redskins, and Ravens, to name a few.
The 49ers were in need of finding someone who could call blocks and protections for an offensive line running a brand new system. They found that in the form of 2016 Pro Bowl center Jeremy Zuttah, most formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. The 49ers acquired Zuttah by trading a sixth-round pick to the Ravens. Jeremy has played for Gary Kubiak and is very familiar with the zone blocking concepts which will be implemented by the 49ers this upcoming season.
Here are some of Zuttah’s strengths and shortfalls.
- Exceptional strength and athleticism. Only OL to run a sub-five-second 40-yard dash at the 2008 combine. Also completed 35 225-lb bench press repetitions during that event.
- Efficient lateral mobility for a big man. Engages blocks and stretches them out. This trait makes him tailor-made for the zone blocking scheme.
- Intelligent signal-caller. Rarely allows his fellow offensive linemen to fall out of position or assignment.
- Versatile big man. Has played center, both guard spots, and even some tackle during his career.
- Sometimes struggles in pass protection. Good inside rushers will give him trouble. (Think Aaron Donald)
- Has had issues staying healthy. Missed most of the 2015 season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Zuttah will, at the very least, provide competition for Kilgore (and possibly a rookie) at the center position. He might light a fire under #67 and force him to play up to his capabilities. Following the trend in most of Lynch’s recent signings, Zuttah will be an invaluable asset in the film room and on the field. A sixth-round pick is a small price to pay for such a commodity. It is my belief that when the 49ers kick off the 2017 season, Zuttah will be starting at center for the red and gold – just call it a hunch.
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