Mailbag: 49ers' linemen should start early

Michael from San Francisco writes: First, I read your blog consistently and I'd like to say I really appreciate your insights -- which is why I want to ask a question. As a Niners fan, I am extremely happy with our draft this year, but I am curious, how long does it take to develop offensive (and I guess defensive) linemen in the NFL? It strikes me a rookie is going to get creamed by the crafty vets. Should I really be expecting this obvious upgrade to our line this year?

Mike Sando: I appreciate the support, Michael. Offensive linemen drafted early should be able to start right away and improve pretty quickly. The 49ers' new line coach, Mike Solari, was in Seattle last season when 2009 second-rounder Max Unger started 16 games and played pretty well. The 49ers have suffered through some growing pains with right guard Chilo Rachal, another second-round choice, but there's no reason the two 2010 first-rounders shouldn't play well enough to win as rookies. The transition should be easier for guards such as Mike Iupati because they're sheltered by a lineman on each side. Tackles tend to get exposed a little more, but the 49ers should be able to scheme around such troubles early in the season, at least to a degree.

My feel is that defensive linemen are a little more hit-or-miss and they take more time to become effective players. Even disappointing offensive linemen should start for a long time if drafted in the first round. Robert Gallery in Oakland comes to mind. He's a disappointment based on where he was picked -- second overall -- but he's also a perennial starter at guard and a good player.

Shawn from Minneapolis writes: Hey Mike, I was wondering if you had any insight on how Charlie Whitehurst has looked for Seattle in the organized team activities, etc. I've been a fan of his for quite a while and was wondering if you thought if he's going to start at some point this year or next year. What are your thoughts? Thanks for your time, I enjoy your blog!

Mike Sando: Thanks, Shawn. Whitehurst's presence puts pressure on starter Matt Hasselbeck even though Hasselbeck appears in little immediate danger of losing his job. Whitehurst has not come in and made a statement that he's a favorite to win the job. He appears to move well. Sometimes he appears to lock onto receivers a little bit. It's early. The exhibition season will be important for him to gain some experience and confidence. Right now, though, I expect Hasselbeck to start as long as he's healthy and able.

Nick from Salt Lake City writes: Hey Mike, love the blog and am a daily addict. As a lifelong devout Rams fan, my question is this: Does the NFL and its history of parity have a duty to not drag its toes as they have seemed to be doing in getting the new ownership straightened out? I understand there must be miles of red tape to go through, but when it is obviously slowing the franchise from being able to make strong moves to improve (as is being seen in Detroit), I would hope that that would give them a sense of urgency. And if you can give a lowly fan some insight as to why this may be taking so long, I would appreciate that as well.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Nick. Stan Kroenke dragged this out some by waiting the maximum amount of time before exercising his option to supersede Shahid Khan's bid by attempting to purchase full control of the Rams. Kroenke made that move April 12, after the NFL's primary spring meetings. The league is holding another round of meetings in Dallas this week, and owners have discussed the Rams' situation. I wouldn't expect the timetable to be any quicker, even though I realize the time is passing slowly for Rams fans. It's hugely important for the franchise to have ownership direction as quickly as possible, but the most critical period of roster building has passed. The big offseason decisions have been made (or not made, as the case has sometimes been for St. Louis).

Jesse from Tucson writes: Kerry Rhodes made a bold declaration at the first day of Cardinals' offseason camp.

"It's going to be fun," Rhodes said of playing with Adrian Wilson. "Me and him together back there, we have the best safety tandem in the league right now. You guys can write that down. We both can do a lot of different things and we're both flexible. That does a lot for a defense."

What are your thoughts on Rhodes statement? Is it good to come out so early, showing team excitement, or is it locker room fuel for the other teams?

Mike Sando: I held this item for a few weeks to show that such statements come and go. I haven't heard anyone make an issue of what Rhodes said. It's optimistic offseason talk and it wasn't disrespectful toward any specific safety tandems on other teams. We'll see if Rhodes can back up the talk. Any good safety playing alongside Wilson can claim he's part of a top safety tandem.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. had this to say about the change from Antrel Rolle to Rhodes this offseason: "That is a drop-off. I liked Rolle a lot because everything was in front of him still. He has only been a free safety for a couple years now. He spends offseasons with Ed Reed and is very conscientious about becoming a great player. Rhodes is a finesse player and still an above-average starting safety who at times can look better than he is, but is not a banger, not an elite cover guy and it's going to be a little tougher to do things you want to do with Adrian Wilson. I would rather have Rolle."