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Maiocco's Take: Week 14 Provides Direction for 49ers Future

Push aside for several minutes the obvious intrigue and storyline of Alex Smith's miraculous comeback – and how he has provided a boost for his team as it makes a surge toward the playoffs.

And, yes, a long time ago – "it does seem like a lifetime ago," Smith said this week – he was the No. 1 overall pick of the 49ers.

He persevered through many downs before experiencing some ups in the Bay Area. Then, he continued his football journey in Kansas City and Washington.

As the 49ers-Washington game approaches, what also interests me is a matchup that will occur when Smith is not on the field.

Do you remember way, way back in 2019? Yes, that seems like a lifetime ago, too.

The 49ers were reaping the rewards of investing so heavily along their defensive line. The organization rode that position group all the way to the Super Bowl.

Now, look at what Washington has going on.

Washington has followed the same blueprint while constructing their own roster.

And, sure, this team is 5-7 (just like the 49ers), but it is a dangerous team that could (just like the 49ers) make some noise in the playoffs, should they finish strong and earn a spot in the postseason.

Washington's starting defensive line consists of first-round draft picks from each of the past four years: Defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne in 2017 and '18; and defensive ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young in 2019 and '20.

"The philosophy of build a big-time D-line so you can play your schemes behind them with only four (pass rushers), I would say that's similar to our philosophy and what we've tried to build," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.

One season ago, the 49ers unleashed DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. And we all know how much success the 49ers had with that unit, as well as a number of capable backups.

Now, only Armstead remains available due to the trade that sent Buckner to Indianapolis and the early-season injuries to Bosa and Ford.

But here is what interests me the most about the Week 14 game in Glendale, Ariz.: The 49ers offensive line, and how that unit will compete against Washington's front four.

Like just about every position group on the 49ers, the team's offensive line has plenty of room for improvement. Where does the team's O-line rank among the areas general manager John Lynch will be seeking to bolster? Do the 49ers need to place significant offseason resources into getting stronger on the offensive line?

The No. 1 priority for the offseason must be re-signing left tackle Trent Williams. But at what cost? And how much is too much to ensure he returns in 2021?

The 49ers also have decisions to make about right tackle Mike McGlinchey. Do they lock him up through 2022 by picking up the fifth-year option, do they try to sign him to a contract extension or do they wait and see?

And what about the interior linemen? Are the 49ers fine heading into the future with left guard Laken Tomlinson? I'd think so. But what about Daniel Brunskill at center and Colton McKivitz at right guard?

Those are some of the many, many questions that Lynch and Shanahan will have to answer in the offseason.

And an important Week 14 matchup against a young, powerful and dynamic defensive line could provide the kind of directions they need to chart the course for the future.

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