The San Francisco 49ers' offensive line approaches the 2012 NFL season with the same starters in four of five spots.
The new starter, right guard Alex Boone, has been with the team since 2010.
This was by design. The 49ers have used first-round picks for three of their five starters on the line. They'll be looking for a jump in performance as they enter another season together.
"You look at guys around the league who have had success as an offensive line and a lot of times they’ve played together in the same system for a while," left tackle Joe Staley said from 49ers training camp. "You see that moreso on the offensive line than at any other position."
You don't see it much in the NFC West, at least outside the 49ers.
The chart shows offensive linemen for every NFC West team, sorting them by starters, reserves, practice-squad players and those placed on injured reserve. Asterisks identify linemen who started for their current teams last season. Seattle has seven such players after shuffling its line constantly last season.
I've shaded the backups to highlight depth. The backups for Arizona and San Francisco started zero NFL games last season. Seattle's backups combined for 26 starts, with each of the four starting at least three games. The Rams' Wayne Hunter started 16 games for the New York Jets. No other Rams backups started in 2011.
Rookie Rokevious Watkins projects as a likely starter for St. Louis -- if not now, then at some point -- after the team released Quinn Ojinnaka. How he plays this season could determine how seriously the Rams need to address left guard in free agency or the draft. The Rams could also consider drafting at least one tackle, at which point Rodger Saffold could become a candidate to move from left tackle to left guard. In the meantime, the Rams appear likely to continue combing the waiver wire.
Arizona, having already lost Brown, appears most vulnerable to injury. As it is, D'Anthony Batiste will be making his fifth career start and first at left tackle when Arizona faces Seattle in Week 1. Right tackle Bobby Massie is a rookie.
The 49ers could find themselves scrambling if one of their tackles were lost. Boone, the swing tackle last season, has moved into the lineup at guard. The team doesn't have another true tackle on its roster. Boone could move to tackle in a pinch, with Leonard Davis or Joe Looney stepping in at guard. Looney, a rookie coming off foot surgery, could project as a long-term starter at right guard. Boone will have something to say about that, however.
The Seahawks have options, particularly on the interior, after rookie J.R. Sweezy emerged as a surprise candidate at right guard. Incumbent starter John Moffitt can back up the three interior spots if he's not starting, as can Lemuel Jeanpierre. Former starting right tackle James Carpenter will become a candidate to start at left guard if his knee rehabilitation continues on schedule. He was expected to practice with the backups this week.