Offensive line coach John Benton prefers players who are athletic and a bit lighter than average to run the 49ers’ outside zone running scheme.
With that in mind, his first impression of jumbo-sized right tackle Trent Brown wasn’t wonderful in April.
Did Benton initially think Brown would be a good fit?
“At first, I wasn’t sure if he would,” Benton said. “I’ll tell you right now that I’m positively optimistic about Trent. He’s gotten in good shape – or much better shape – since we got here. He was way up there weight-wise and he’s lost some weight.”
Listed at 6-foot-8 and 355 pounds, Brown has surprisingly nimble feet and his athleticism isn’t an issue in the outsize-zone scheme. However, he’ll need to continue to work on his conditioning to realize Benton’s expectations this season.
“If he can do that, I’m very excited about Trent and what he can do,” Benton said. “If a player can do what he want him to from that athletic standpoint — and has the size and power of Trent Brown — now we’ve got something really special. So I’m very excited about Trent.”
The good news is Brown appears to be on track to drop the necessary weight. The bad news? This same story is unfolding again.
Last year, Brown was overweight and easily gassed during offseason practices before working himself into shape. It was the continuation of longtime battle against complacency for Brown, who has possessed ability that’s dwarfed his work ethic for much of his football career.
He slipped to the seventh round in 2015 amid pre-draft chatter that his poor conditioning didn’t allow him to play entire games. He started just 11 of 23 games in two seasons at Florida and rotated with Tyler Moore, who never played a regular-season snap in the NFL.
Last year, left tackle Joe Staley likened Brown’s ability to that of Hall-of-Famer Jonathan Ogden. Staley didn’t backtrack when pressed on the seemingly hyperbolic comparison, but his endorsement came with a challenge in 2016.
“I feel very strongly about his talent,” Staley said. “If he doesn’t succeed, he has no one to blame but himself. He has all the talent in the world and it’s up to him to take that next step. I’ve told him this and I have no problem saying it to you guys: He has to take that next step as far as how great does he want to be.”
Perhaps Brown is ready to do just that, but the fact that he’s repeating the same pattern this offseason suggests not everything has clicked.
The 49ers did sign former Seahawks right tackle Gary Gilliam, who has started 44 games in his three-year career and has taken some first-teams snaps this offseason. Still, Gilliam doesn’t figure to pose a serious threat to Brown, as long as Brown doesn’t taken a step back in his latest race to get ready for the regular season.
“He came back a little heavy, but he’s worked incredibly hard to bring that weight down,” general manager John Lynch said this month on PFT Live. “And I just think he’s got a lot of great football in front of him, if he can control that weight and be consistent with it. And be accountable to us and his teammates. I just think the sky is the limit with how good he can be.”