Shanahan: ‘Fingers crossed’ on Mack, but 49ers have options originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
As the 49ers wait for their starting center Alex Mack to publicly announce whether he’ll be returning or retiring this upcoming season, the front office feels prepared for either scenario thanks to in-house options and key draft picks.
During his post-draft press conference alongside general manager John Lynch, coach Kyle Shanahan shed some light on where Mack’s decision stands-and how San Francisco plans on addressing his absence from the field should the seven-time Pro Bowler decide to hang up his helmet for good.
Shanahan told reporters that the front office has an idea of which way Mack is leaning, but said “it’s up to Alex” to make his decision known.
After 13 years in the NFL, the 36-year-old has yet to reveal whether or not he will return in 2022. He signed a two-year deal with the 49ers in 2021 and made it clear to the team that he would be taking the mental and physical toll of the position one season at a time.
Shanahan said Mack’s hesitation is “understandable,” even though he’s coming off a successful season. Mack is the sole player currently on the 49ers’ roster to be named to the NFL All-Decade 2010s team, and his veteran presence would certainly be missed on the field.
“Football’s not the easiest thing to do, no matter how much you enjoy the competition, and he’s up there in age,” Shanahan said. “But in terms of how he looks on tape and how he was [last season]everyone knows he can still play. ”
Mack was married this spring and recently got back from his honeymoon, Shanahan added, so the 49ers aren’t pressuring him to make a decision so quickly after his return. Lynch in March expressed optimism that Mack would return, but the 49ers’ brass has said they’ll leave the talking up to him in recent weeks.
The organization is still hoping for good news, Shanahan said.
“Keeping our fingers crossed on Mack, but we’ve got to plan and know we can’t count on it,” he told reporters.
San Francisco entered the 2022 NFL Draft over the weekend with that plan in mind, drafting two offensive linemen the team believes can play on the inside but could also compete for center if necessary: Nick Zakelj (No. 187) and Spencer Burford (No. 134).
“We feel like we drafted two inside guys, but you want to see everyone at center,” Shanahan said. “… We do the best with our picks and I love the guys that we did add… you hope they can play center, but we’ll find that out in camp. Usually, you pick your best eight and roll with it. ”
There are two players already on the roster that Shanahan also listed as potential starting centers – should Mack end up retiring – in Daniel Brunskill and Jake Brendel.
Before starting all 20 games at right guard last season, Brunskill started the final eight games of 2020 at center. And Brendel is the 49ers’ returning backup center, with three career starts at the position with the Miami Dolphins in 2018.
“We consider all that stuff,” Shanahan said when asked if the 49ers have thought about moving Brunskill to center. “… [Brunskill has] done that, so you definitely have an option there. Just talked about Jake Brendel, who we’re excited about. ”
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The 49ers also added two additional interior offensive linemen as undrafted rookie free agents with Mercer’s Jason Poe and Arizona State’s Dohnovan West.
It’s clear that no matter what Mack decides to do, Shanahan feels like the offensive line is in good shape moving forward.
While the details of what that line will look like depends on their starting center’s ultimate choice, 49ers vets and rookies alike will look to provide San Francisco with a reliable alternative if Mack retires.
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