Andrew Tiller was notified early last week that he'd be starting at left guard in Week 15 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
That decision came as a surprise when the San Francisco 49ers took the field on gameday. Since Tiller had started five straight games at right guard, most expected that Marcus Martin would start at left guard in place of the injured Alex Boone.
Instead, Martin shifted from center to right guard, Daniel Kilgore got the start at center and Tiller moved across the line to left guard.
Tiller, who was initially drafted in the sixth round by the New Orleans Saints in 2012, told the media on Monday that while his background is at right guard, the 49ers have been moving him around since training camp.
San Francisco has been developing Tiller's versatility for situations just like this: when depth is thin, and the coaching staff needs flexibility along the offensive line. Most NFL teams have a player who is their "Swiss Army Knife." Tiller fills that role for San Francisco. "When you're the swing guard, you gotta do left guard, right guard and center," Tiller said. "All throughout the season, before I was starting at right guard, I was playing all three."
Tiller joked that the practice reps he got at center were "a little rough," but he knows the value in his ability to start at multiple positions.
"You basically prove your worth if you can perform well on both sides," he said.
No one knows for sure what the team's rotation along the offensive line will look like over the last two games of the season. Martin's concussion only adds to the uncertainty and brings rookie tackle Trent Brown into the mix.
Regardless of the injuries and moving parts, the group knows it must move forward. San Francisco is tied for the most sacks allowed this season with 49 along with the Tennessee Titans.
"Negative plays are all a lack of focus," Tiller said. "Whiffing on a block; we can control that. All that comes down to focus and execution."
Another point of emphasis for the 49ers offensive line will be improving on third down. San Francisco failed to convert on its first 12 third-down attempts against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15.
The 49ers 30-percent conversion rate in such situations ranks 30th in the NFL.
"You've got to put that in the past," Tiller said. "We'll do better on third down if we can do better on first and second down. Trying to convert on 3rd-and-14, 3rd-and-15 is hard."