NEW ORLEANS – In the eyes of Hall of Fame coach John Madden, the San Francisco 49ers had the best offensive line in the National Football League.
The former NFL coach and legendary announcer named the 49ers offensive line as his 2012 Most Valuable Protectors.
It wasn’t the only praise dished out to San Francisco’s offensive line at Wednesday’s Super Bowl XLVII media availability.
Jim Harbaugh also showered his linemen with compliments.
When discussing the many weapons on San Francisco’s offense, the 49ers coach made sure to call out the linemen who make it possible for the offense to function.
“All of the offensive weapons have been extremely good,” Harbaugh said. “I’d like to talk a little bit about our offensive line, if that’s OK. That’s been a phenomenal group for us, and I’d call them offensive weapons as well.”
Leading wide receiver
“Without a great offensive line, I don’t think too many people, wide receivers or quarterbacks, would be making plays," the fourth-year wideout said. "That’s good for us.”
With two Pro Bowl starters on the left side of the line, tackle
“I know a lot of teams and coaches overlook the offensive line,” said Davis, who appreciated the love from his head coach. “It’s not respected as much because we don’t touch the ball, but that’s cool Coach regards us highly.”
In particular, Harbaugh said Staley is a very talented player, who provides tremendous leadership. The 49ers coach explained how Goodwin, a player who’s never missed a game in two years in San Francisco, must be relishing his return to New Orleans, where he won Super Bowl XLIV win as a member of the Saints.
As for Iupati, Boone and Davis, Harbaugh discussed how each continues to emerge as ascending players.
“They’ve all played well together,” Harbaugh said of his line, one of three teams to start the same five players in every regular season game this year. “It’s really been a strength and a center for our football team.”
Moments after Harbaugh concluded his podium talk,
“They have been doing a phenomenal job blocking people,” the second-year passer set to make his 10th career start at Super Bowl XLVII. “In pass protection, I’ve barely been touched. In the run game, they’re opening up huge holes for our running backs. They open up the edges for me when I’ve been running. As an offensive line, they’ve been playing lights out.”
Kaepernick, who has a 101.2 passer rating with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions in his nine starts, has been sacked twice in 52 pass attempts this postseason.
Boone, himself, has credited Goodwin for being the steady hand guiding the ship. The undrafted lineman in his 11th season is especially relishing this week in New Orleans, including practicing at the Saints facility.
“Definitely brings back memories, strange at the same time,” Goodwin said. “It’s strange being in that locker room and that building with a bunch of different people, but I’m definitely happy to be here. I'm glad this group has given me the opportunity to do this.”
Goodwin was pleased to see images of himself still up in the Saints facility.
“He showed me a couple of the posters that were up around the building,” Davis noted. “He’s highly respected around here.”
The strangest part, however, was holding meetings in his old offensive line room.
Davis couldn’t help but wonder how “Goody” felt about it.
“When we were in the O-line room, I said, ‘This has to feel weird, right?’” Davis said, “And he was like, ‘Yeah it is.’ … He was sitting in his old O-line room with his new team.”
Goodwin appreciated seeing the images of his years with the Saints. It also reminded him of what’s at stake on Feb. 3 when the 49ers clash with the Baltimore Ravens.
The last time the teams met, Baltimore blitzed
However, much has changed in Goodwin’s mind, who doesn’t expect it to be like that when the Harbaugh brothers meet for a second time.
“I feel like it’s a different group, an improved group,” Goodwin said. “A group that’s worked together a lot more. I think we can learn from some of the things they did, but it’s a different group, hopefully that won’t happen again.”
With most of the heavy media obligations out of the way, the 49ers will get down to meetings and practices as they prepare for the Ravens. Coaches, too, are eager to put the linemen in the best position to succeed.
According to offensive coordinator Greg Roman, that’s the first thing the coaching staff does every week.
“We try to look at each offensive linemen and asses their matchups,” Roman explained. “We’re fortunate that we have five really good ones, who are all unique. We try to calculate how they matchup against the defense and they’ve been great. When you can count on a group like that in the run game and the pass game week in and week out, it just changes how you can approach the game.”
So if it’s running a zone-read scheme, old-school running plays from the West Coast Offense, or anything that’s been installed by Roman and his staff on any given week, San Francisco’s offensive linemen feel confident in their ability to handle the volume of play calls the coaches hand out.
“They want to do whatever it takes to win,” assistant offensive line coach Tim Drevno noted. “They take on a challenge and say, ‘We’re going to learn this, we’re going to do this and we’re going to be great at it.’ Hats go off to them because they’re willing to take the bull by the horns.”